There is no question that record heatwaves in North America and southern Europe, which sparked wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes and burnt through millions of acres of forests, are worrying. But according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC report released Monday morning there is a far worse dilemma on the horizon: the Arctic is melting three times faster than anyone thought—their first update since 2013. “It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research who co-authored the report said at its release. “I don’t see any area that is safe ... Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”
The 3,949-page IPCC report, which directly points a finger at humans for not heeding ample warnings over the climate change, says there is no more time to waste and, in fact, it might already be too late to save low-lying areas now threatened by rising seas. “We’ve known for decades that the world is warming, but this report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid, and intensifying—unprecedented in thousands of years,” Ko Barrett, IPCC vice chair said ahead of the report’s release. “The bottom line is that unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C—or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit—will be beyond reach.”
The authors create five scenarios—essentially all bad—based on how even if world leaders start adhering to the 2015 Paris climate agreement things won’t get better, calling the current situation a “code red for humanity.”
The report says the Paris Agreement target to lower the global average temperature to 1.5 degrees by the mid-2030s is a long shot and instead the climate is heading in the wrong direction. Instead of dropping, the global temperature has inched up by 1.1 degrees and will likely top a 2 degree increase with devastating results. “We’re passing 2 degrees somewhere between the early 2040s and early 2050s as a most likely estimate in the higher-emission scenarios,” Zeke Hausfather, climate scientist and the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute told Wired after the report was released.
The report, which encompasses more than 14,000 pieces of scientific evidence sifted through by hundreds of climate experts, focuses on human indifference—and arrogance. “Human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years,” one section head warns under which the experts say this warming has “already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.”
Those extremes are being played out in California where the Dixie fires is now the second largest in the history of the state and homing in on a national park. Across the Atlantic, in Greece, fires have skirted up against the ancient city of Athens and are destroying much of nearby island of Evia, where 2,000 people have been evacuated. Whole villages have been completely destroyed and firefighters from across Europe have aided in what has been so far an impossible battle to gain control. Greece has experienced record breaking temperatures nearing 113 degrees. Fires have also wreaked havoc in Italy, which is undergoing a major heatwave authorities warn could reignite many of the blazes in Sicily that have been brought under control.
But the melting Arctic, which poses the greatest threat because of the extent to which it will cause seas to rise, is the real worry, says Isla Myers-Smith, a global change ecologist with the University of Edinburgh. “As more ice melts, it exposes the darker land underneath, which further heats the region, leading to more melting,” she warns.
No matter what is done to try to turn the situation around, the report confirms that we are “locked in” to a rise of 6 to 12 inches of sea level by mid century, according to co-author Bob Kopp of Rutgers University. They will continue to warm and become more acidic fed by mountain and polar glaciers that will continue melting for decades, or even centuries. And that will flood cities like Venice and other low lying coastal areas. Over the weekend, Venice was inundated by a rare summer high water—the first of its kind since 1995.
But the worst takeaway from the extensive report meant to jolt policy makers into action is that it is clearly humanity’s fault. The report concludes that nearly all the horrific effects of climate change are blamed on emission of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane. And reducing those emissions is the only chance at our survival. “Anything we can do to limit, to slow down, is going to pay off,” co-author Maisia Rojas Corrada, director of the Center for Climate and Resilience Research in Chile. “And if we cannot get to 1.5, it’s probably going to be painful, but it’s better not to give up.”
Despite the doomsday thread throughout, experts do hope that it isn’t a lost cause. “If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe,” UN Secretary-General, António Guterres said Monday. “But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”