IPCC Report about global warming: My 6 take aways
Updated: Apr 7
On August 9 2021, IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released their newest report about climate science and climate change, summarising several reports of different working groups and with the help of more than 200 global scientists.
IPCC is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
The newest, 6th assessment, report is a fact-based list of our future. The IPCC report provides different future scenarios whether we reach greenhouse emission net zero by 2040 to limit global warming to 1.5°C or not.
The goal of the Paris Agreement of 2015, which 196 countries accepted, is to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. However, to reach this goal we need to reduce the greenhouse emissions way quicker than expected - by 2040 instead of 2050 to stay under 1.5 °C. We talk about less than 20 years from now. Why so quick and why is it so hard to achieve?
In the following 6 take aways, I tried to combine the key findings of the newest IPCC report with economical impact for the world, Europe and Switzerland and the necessary innovation requirements in the next 20 years.
1. Humans caused 1 degree increase in global temperature in the last 100 years.
The IPCC Report clearly links human activities with global warming of approximately 1.0°C caused by human caused geenhouse emission. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.
Source: IPCC Report 2021
To put into longer perspective, you can look at this graphic of the past 1000 years.
Looking at the relative contributions of these forcings to climate change over the past 1,000 years, scientists have concluded from model simulations that:
Solar and volcanic forcings have been responsible for some of the variations in Northern Hemisphere temperature over the past 1,000 years.
Neither solar nor volcanic forcing can explain the dramatic warming of the 20th century. Changes in these forcings during the 20th century would actually have resulted in a small cooling since 1960.
Only when adding the human-caused increase in greenhouse gas concentrations the models are able to explain the unprecedented warmth we are currently experiencing.
So how much hotter can it get?
Currently, we are emitting around 50bn tonnes of greenhouse emissions, which exists out of 40bn tonnes of CO2 and 10bn tonnes of other greenhouse gases (more later on).
Based on analysis of ice, the history shows large changes in the CO2 concentration based on the changes of the orbit to the sun which caused ice ages (low CO2) and interglacial times (high CO2) in the last 800'000 years. Theses changes occurred over thousand of years. However, it has been never that high as in the last 50 years with such a rapid increase:
The greenhouse emissions are the main driver for the global warming since pre-industrial times and without reducing them to net zero, we will see the temperature increasing between 2°C and 4.8°C in the next 80 years based on our actions.
Based the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C and Michael Raupach’s work, published in NatureClimate Change, these mitigation curves show that urgent and rapid reductions in emissions would be needed to achieve either target.
The regions of the world will be impacted differently based on the temperature increase and precipitation increase. Notably is that the Arctic, South East Asia, India, China and South America will be most impacted in any scenario (increase by 1.5°C in comparison to 2.0°C).
Source: IPCC Report 2021
So what is the impact of rising temperatures in such a short time span?
2. Sea Levels can rise in the next 50 years up to 0.5m despite limiting the temperature to 1.5 increase.
If we continue to submit as many greenhouse emissions as now, then we will have up to 1m increase of sea level by 2100. Even if we limit the temperature to 1.5°C increase, we will still see an increase of up to 0.5m and it will continue to rise afterwards.
It will also rain more often and more frequent depending on the temperature increase.
NASA's Sea Level Change Team has created a sea level projection tool based on the IPCC report that visualizes the impacts of future sea level rise on coastlines and communities. More than 600 million people (around 10 percent of the world's population) live in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters (32 feet) above sea level.
The following visualization shows the impact on cities based on different sea-levels. Maybe this graphic is quite drastic with 80m sea-level rise. But we can reach 1m in the next 50 years.
3. We have experienced a decline of 68% of all living species since 1975. The temperature increase will enforce it even more.
68% of all living species declined since 1970:
Swiss Re Institute's BES Index reveals that over half (55%) of global GDP is dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services. It also shows that in a fifth of all countries, ecosystems are in a fragile state for more than 30% of the entire country area.
In Europe we experience a decline of 24% of living species mainly due to changes in land use. The climate change will increase that number significantly in future.
According to IPCC Report:
Of 105,000 species studied, 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range at global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C (medium confidence). Impacts associated with other biodiversity-related risks such as forest fires and the spread of invasive species are lower at 1.5°C compared to 2°C of global warming (high confidence).
The Arctic ice is melting and we will see the first ice-free summer in the next 60 years with major implication on weather, fisheries and ecosystems. Coral reefs, for example, are projected to decline by a further 70–90% at 1.5°C (high confidence) with larger losses (>99%) at 2°C (very high confidence)
4. We need to reach net zero by 2040 (in 20 years), to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
The following quite complicated graphic shows, how much greenhouse emissions we need to extract and reduce which is getting pumped into the atmosphere every year.
Source: IPCC Report 2021
Today, we release around 50bn tonnes of CO2 and non-CO2 in the atmosphere. To limit the warming to 1.5 degrees, we need to reach net zero by 2040 instead of 2050 as agreed in the Paris Agreement.
What is net zero? Put simply, net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere.
You can reach net zero by:
lower the emissions we are sending into the atmosphere, from activities such as industrial processes, power generation, transport and intensive agriculture
remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, for example by capturing carbon created during industrial processes before it’s released or planting more trees.
To reach net zero, we also need to remove 50bn tones of greenhouse emission out of the atmosphere and then create the balance. And we are not only taking about CO2, we also need to reduce Methan, black carbon and Nitrious oxide.
What is CO2?
Carbon dioxide (chemical formula CO2) is an acidic colorless gas with a density about 53% higher than that of dry air. Natural sources include volcanoes, hot springs and geysers, and it is freed from carbonate rocks by dissolution in water and acids. Because carbon dioxide is soluble in water, it occurs naturally in groundwater, rivers and lakes, ice caps, glaciers and seawater. It is present in deposits of petroleum and natural gas. In 2018, 89% of global CO2 emissions came from fossil fuels and industry. (IPCC Report 2018)
What is Methane?
Methane is an important greenhouse gas because it is such a potent heat absorber. The concentration of methane in our atmosphere has risen by about 150% since 1750, apparently largely due to human activities. Methane accounts for about 20% of the heating effects by all of the greenhouse gases combined. Both natural and human sources supply methane to Earth's atmosphere.
Major natural sources of methane include emissions from wetlands and oceans, and from the digestive processes of termites. Sources related to human activities include rice production, landfills, raising cattle and other ruminant animals (cow burps!), and energy generation.
What is black carbon?
Black Carbon (BC) has recently emerged as a major contributor to global climate change, possibly second only to CO2 as the main driver of change. BC particles strongly absorb sunlight and give soot its black color. BC is produced both naturally and by human activities as a result of the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass. Primary sources include emissions from diesel engines, cook stoves, wood burning and forest fires.
What is Nitrious oxide?
Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural, land use, industrial activities, combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste, as well as during treatment of wastewater.
Coming back to the reduction. The following graphic illustrates, that we need to start now, today in 2020, to reduce CO2 emissions to net zero by 2040 because we are already overshooting the targets since 2010. It also shows that we need to reduce the other Non-CO2 emission to actually hit the target:
- Methan and black carbon by 35%
- Nitrous oxide by 10%
This graphic assumes that the population and the demand for energy is not growing.
Based on the UN we are expecting to have 10.9bn people living on the planet by 2100.
This visualization presents this big overview of the global demographic transition – with the very latest data from the UN Population Division.
Population and GDP Development are key driver for emissions, hence we are electrifying the world while raising them out of poverty. So, the overall demand of electricity is increasing and along it the demand for fossil fuel.
What differentiates countries where CO2 emissions have greatly increased, stabilized, or fallen is whether the countries could reduce their energy and carbon intensity fast enough to offset this large increase in GDP (and increases in population). If improvements in energy or carbon intensity were slow (or in some cases non-existent), then CO2 emissions grew rapidly.
Who is submitting the most greenhouse emissions in which areas?
To give perspective - China is producing 29% of worldwide goods with US following with 17%.
Switzerland is heavily importing from Germany, Italy, US and China:
So, it's not China's or US' problem. It is a worldwide problem to get the greenhouse emissions down because we are heavily dependant on each other. If you look at the global sector split, this is a good illustration too:
89% of all CO2 emission come from fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) because till today it is our main source for energy, plastic and other manufacturing processes.
Oil is on our daily lives. Everywhere. This makes it so hard.
This graphic shows the increase of electricity demand which could be only met with fossil fuels.
So, if we want to tackle greenhouse emissions then we need to find a way to reduce fossil fuels as electricity source or capturing all C02 during the burning process. However, how hard this will be is shown by the raising demand of electricity in the growing developing countries which is mainly met with fossil fuels.
5. The global impact of the GDP will be -11 percent at global warming of 2 degrees.
SwissRe with partners did an extensive study regarding the global impact of temperature increase. Expected global GDP impact by 2050 under different scenarios compared to a world without climate change:
-18% if no mitigating actions are taken (3.2°C increase); -14% if some mitigating actions are taken (2.6°C increase); -11% if further mitigating actions are taken (2°C increase); -4% if Paris Agreement targets are met (below 2°C increase)
For comparison - minus 5.6% is the estimated impact of covid on the global GDP. source: https://www.statista.com/topics/6139/covid-19-impact-on-the-global-economy/
This might look like a simple model calculation and of course innovation and adaptability of human kind always surprises and might change the outcome. However, such an immediate threat to our economy would be treated very differently, if it would happen as sudden as Covid 19 instead of a long-term effect as global warming.
SwissRE provides a simplification of the the GDP impact at each country with a ranking:
"Economies in south and southeast Asia are most vulnerable to the physical risks associated with climate change. They are also the countries that have most to gain if the world is able to rein in temperature increases. Many advanced economies in the northern hemisphere are less vulnerable, being both less exposed to adverse developments in weather patterns associated with climate change, and better resourced to cope."
So, if you are in Switzerland (which is green), why should you care? Because even, if the other countries are more affected in the climate change than us. We will see the following personal impact:
Price increase of products (food, goods, etc. ) due to scarcity of resources (less habitat, more flooding, less fish combined with increase of population) - Switzerland has to import 276bn USD in goods and food to survive.
More migration and refugees of higher affected area which leads to more global crises
Stronger imbalance between countries / rich and poor leading to security issues
Swiss Companies with global presence will suffer under global crises and will have to reduce costs / employees
Even if in the short-term the temperature increase is beneficial for growing plants in Switzerland, the long-term affect are also negative for Switzerland (Association of Farmers in Switzerland reported):
Nonetheless, the negative effects dominate in the long term. The changes bring with them various challenges in cultivation. Crops such as potatoes, which were previously problem-free, will have to be increasingly watered in the future. Mild winters are bad for winter crops, which rely on sufficiently long cold spells for their optimal development. Pests can also develop better. Increased bottlenecks in the roughage supply in dry summers are to be expected. The increase in late frosts also increases the production risk.
6. So what can we do? We need to accelerate change on different levels.
What drives, and ultimately determines levels of greenhouse emissions – whether at global; regional; national or local levels?
Total CO2 emissions are driven by four fundamental factors, outlined in the well-known equation: the ‘Kaya Identity‘. The breakdown of the Kaya Identity equation is shown in the graphic here.
Total emissions, in the simplest description, are determined by:
Population: number of people
Per capita impact: average emissions per person
Per capita emissions are determined by:
Income: GDP per capita – richer people tend to emit more CO2
Technology: how much CO2 is emitted per dollar spent
‘Technology’ is determined by two factors:
Energy intensity: the amount of energy consumed per unit of GDP
Carbon intensity: the amount of CO2 emitter per unit of energy
This means that total emissions are driven by the equation as stated in the graphic.
So what needs to change?
System changes in policies, laws and political behavior by integrating manufacturing and retail companies, infrastructure (energy, transportation, etc.) and agriculture to develop new global standards and to define common measures (more than just the Paris Agreement).
Create incentives (positive and negative in form of tax) for lowering risk, increasing innovation and creating a market demand for new products.
Public Awareness through joined campaigns in all media formats (social media, media houses, public events, education, universities, etc.)
Heavy investments in innovations for energy efficiency and greenhouse emission capturing and storage from public and private sector.
Change in the infrastructure (sustainable land use, water management, limitation of human spread in certain areas, etc.)
Shift to sustainable energy resources (renewable won't be enough) and make this energy as cheap as possible to provide them to the developing / population growing countries.
Change into sustainable agriculture by increasing natural habitat, biodiversity management, forestation, restriction of fishing and rethinking animal based protein production.
Reduce food waste, hence still 1/3 of all produced food gets thrown away. Improving harvesting techniques, refrigeration, transport and packaging in supply chains; and reducing consumer waste can reduce emissions significantly.
Decarbonize transportation of the world hence we will in future rely heavily on transporting goods around.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC assessments provide a scientific basis for governments at all levels to develop climate related policies, and they underlie negotiations at the UN Climate Conference – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The assessments are policy-relevant but not policyprescriptive: they may present projections of future climate change based on different scenarios and the risks that climate change poses and discuss the implications of response options, but they do not tell policymakers what actions to take. The IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision-makers because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature. Participation in the IPCC is open to all member countries of the WMO and United Nations. It currently has 195 members. The Panel, made up of representatives of the member states, meets in Plenary Sessions to take major decisions. The IPCC Bureau, elected by member governments, provides guidance to the Panel on the scientific and technical aspects of the Panel’s work and advises the Panel on related management and strategic issues1 . IPCC assessments are written by hundreds of leading scientists who volunteer their time and expertise as Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors of the reports. They enlist hundreds of other experts as Contributing Authors to provide complementary expertise in specific areas. The authors may work with Chapter Scientists who cross-check between findings presented in different parts of the report, carry out additional fact-checking, and work on reference management among other things. Chapter Scientists are usually early career scientists.
IPPC Policymakers Paper: