Speed Read

09.27.13

8 Damning Facts From the U.N.’s Climate Change Report

A U.N. panel has released an exhaustive new report on climate change. The bad news: it’s all our fault. The worse news: it’s not going to stop. Miranda Green on what you need to know.

Polar bears beware.

The U.N. released the first of four reports Friday that examines how climate change is affecting the earth—and the results aren’t optimistic. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in its first report since 2007 that growing temperatures, rising oceans, and high CO2 levels are among the many things planet earth has to look forward to in the oncoming years, thanks mostly to fossil fuel emissions. The best part: the report blames it all on human activity.

Here are the 8 juiciest bits to know.

1. It’s all our fault

The IPCC report boldly states with a 95 percent certainty that humans are the main cause for ongoing climate change since the 1950s. The findings attribute more than half of the increase in global surface temperature between 1951 and 2010 to human activities. The main culprit? Fossil fuels. Oil, natural gas, and coal are among the listed dominant drivers of global warming.

2. We’re going to see a lot more water

Researchers are “virtually certain” that ocean temperatures rose significantly between 1971 and 2010, with the largest warming occurring in the Southern Ocean. Between 1901 and 2010, the global mean sea level rose by about 7.4 inches. Levels are expected to rise at a faster pace than they have over the past 40 years and could rise anywhere between 10 inches and 32 inches. The exact number depends on continued greenhouse emissions in this century.

3. Say hello to shrinkage

We’ve heard over the years that glaciers are melting and all but obsolete—and the IPCC report doesn’t relieve those worries. According to the report, ice sheets, glaciers, and arctic sea ice are all melting and shrinking and that northern hemisphere spring snowfall is continuing to decrease.

4. Feeling hot hot hot

We have lived through the warmest 30-year period in the last 1,400 years, according to the report. Since 1850 each decade has gotten progressively warmer than the one preceding. 

5. Gas is taking over

Despite the work of trees and lush foliage, carbon dioxide continues to rise in the earth’s atmosphere. Since pre-industrial times, before the rise of cities, CO2 has increased 40 percent and temperatures are “likely” to be at least 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels by the year 2100. In addition, the report finds “with very high confidence” that the mean rate of rise in CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide concentrations is unprecedented in the last decade.

6. The reason for the temperature rise “pause” is uncertain

One of the main arguments climate-change deniers use to denounce global warming is the stop, or pause, of temperature increases since 1998. Researchers  said determining the reasoning for this pause was a main objective of the study, but they haven’t been able to come up with conclusive reasoning. They say multiple factors could be at play for the pause, but that 15 years is not enough time to draw firm conclusions as to why temperatures haven’t been rising at the same rate as they had.

7. It’s going to get worse

Researchers say that even if the population determines a way to stop all carbon emissions right now, the earth will still experience continued climate changes for hundreds of years. The report says that 15 to 40 percent of the released CO2 in the atmosphere will linger there for at least 1,000 years. Researchers are also “virtually certain” that sea levels will continue to rise beyond 2100. Any sustained warming will lead the Greenland Ice Sheet to melt in a millennium or more, which would have drastic effects on the sea level.

8. What we can do

The best plan ascertained from the report, besides stopping all carbon fuel emissions, is to try to limit surface temperatures from reaching a certain point. The report said limiting the global average temperature rise to 3.6 degrees will help avoid “dangerous climate change.”

Read the full report here.