The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued the first installment of its Sixth Assessment Report, “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.”
For those receptive to the report, it provides a needed message about the serious consequences of climate change and the need to end fossil fuel use. Those who are skeptical pointed to the failure of the IPCC in predicting climate change in past reports.
“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land,” the report states.
The report, authored by hundreds of scientists from across the world, predicts global temperature increases are almost certain to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, surpassing the 1.5 degrees C target set by the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement.
“Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered,” the report states. “Global warming of 1.5 [degrees C] and 2 [degrees C] will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”
“This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet,” said António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, in a statement. “There must be no new coal plants built after 2021.”
According to figures released by the Trump administration’s Energy Information Administration in early 2021, the United States’ newest electricity generating capacity is primarily coming from renewables, including solar, wind, and batteries. In China, meanwhile, coal plant capacity increased by 38.4 gigawatts in 2020 alone, over triple the capacity added elsewhere in the world that year.
“Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy,” Guterres said.
The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, which aims to phase out fossil fuels across the world, has pointed out that the Biden administration and other governments are continuing to approve coal, oil, and gas projects despite their stated commitments to reducing fossil fuel use.
“The scientific reality of climate change is inescapable,” said Eric Lander, who leads the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and serves as science adviser to the president, in a statement.
“The report shows sobering facts: global temperatures have risen nearly 1.1 [degrees C] above pre-industrial levels and threaten to hit levels of 1.5-2.0 [degrees C], which is widely agreed to have severe consequences,” Lander said. “Late-summer Arctic sea ice appears to be the lowest it’s been in the last 1,000 years. Sea level rise has accelerated, and is now happening faster than we’ve seen in the last 3,000 years. The ocean warmed faster over the last century than it has in the last 11,000 years. And, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has reached its highest level in 2 million years.”
Steve Milloy, a bio-statistician who served on the Environmental Protection Agency transition team for the Trump administration, said there is “no doubt” that “humans have (slightly) warmed the planet.”
But in a Twitter thread, he voiced skepticism about the amount of warming described by the IPCC, pointing to climatologist Roy Spencer’s work as evidence that temperature data may be distorted by the urban heat island effect. Milloy also cited multiple examples of “failed climate predictions” from past decades, including atmospheric physicist James Hansen’s statement in 1987 that global temperatures would increase 3 degrees C by 2020.
Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus think tank, wrote in his own Twitter thread detailing previous instances of the United Nations “[warning] us that we have just a few years left until catastrophe.”
The lead economist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Rachel Cleetus, said the new IPCC report should inform commitments at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, scheduled to begin Nov. 1 in Glasgow, Scotland.
“Richer nations—whose emissions are the predominant cause of global warming impacts being experienced around the world—must take responsibility for making rapid and deep emissions cuts and provide financial support so developing countries can make a low-carbon transition too,” Cleetus said in a statement.
Democrat and Republican members of Congress also weighed in.
“This report confirms what Americans are experiencing firsthand—the devastating impacts of the climate crisis are here, and they are getting worse,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the House Climate Crisis Committee, said in a statement. “Right now, over 100 major wildfires are burning across 15 states. Red tide is plaguing Florida’s coasts, hurricane season is getting longer, and deadly heat waves are scorching communities.”
“With his Build Back Better Agenda and our Climate Crisis Action Plan, we know what it will take to solve this crisis,” Castor wrote. “Congress must act with the urgency this moment demands, and get President Biden’s climate plan across the finish line.”
“While today’s report highlights the urgency of climate change, we must ensure we approach this issue the right way,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), the ranking GOP member on the committee. “It also highlights the stupidity of pushing flawed policies that only shift higher emissions, economic activity, and jobs from the United States to China, Russia, and other countries.
“American resources and American innovation that lower costs while reducing emissions are the only way to address this global issue. We can’t cut global emissions through domestic punitive action that will outsource American jobs, hurt U.S. competitiveness, and increase global emissions in the process. We must avoid policies that rely on higher taxes, increased regulations, and ensure us being under the thumb of China.”
Follow Nathan Worcester on Twitter: @nnworcester