While U.S. Supreme Court weighs EPA’s authority to limit greenhouse gases, a new climate change report predicts a catastrophic future — and a grim present

By: - February 28, 2022 9:56 am

The report is 3,600 pages, but its message is concise — and grim: Drastically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions now or face the collapse of ecosystems and even human societies. And not in the future, but now.

Climate change is threatening the world’s food systems, including those in North America, afflicting crops, livestock and fisheries, according to a report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change today. Extreme weather — storms, droughts, heat waves — induced by climate change has “altered ecosystems all around the world, causing mass mortality of plants and animals … resulting the first climate-given extinctions.”

The IPCC is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

The document is the second of three that are part of the 2022 assessment. The first dealt with the science of climate change. The second, released today, focuses on its affects — current and projected — on humans and ecosystems. A third report is due out later this year.

Today’s report underscores the urgent need to rein in greenhouse gas emissions — carbon dioxide and methane, in particular. Globally, the last seven years have been the hottest on record.

(Coincidentally, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in West Virginia vs. EPA. The plaintiffs, representing coal interests, are challenging the agency’s authority to limit greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.) 

Some climate catastrophes are occurring now and are irreversible. “The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments,” the report reads. 

Species, such as some fish, are migrating to cooler climes, while animals, including polar bears, are finding their homes are uninhabitable because of higher Arctic temperatures.

Humans, too, are in danger: Higher temperatures can cause heat-related illnesses or death, especially among the elderly, very young, and even robust outdoor workers in their prime of life.

Even if the average increase in global temperature levels off at 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), “human life, safety and livelihoods” across North America, especially in coastal areas will be placed at risk from seal level rise, severe storms and hurricanes.”

But to forestall an even more dire future, nations must drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the report said. The transportation and electric power sectors are the largest emitters of these gases.

The countries least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, such as those in Africa, are expected to bear the brunt of the planetary upheaval. Growth in agricultural productivity is down by more than a third since 1961, more than any other region. Once the planet’s average temperature increase tips over 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), then widespread malnutrition is expected to occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and Central and South America.

Meanwhile, the nations emitting the highest amount of emissions are failing to finance adaption or research projects in the most vulnerable countries, where humanitarian crises are expected to intensify. 

The report “is a blueprint for our future on this planet. It recognizes the interdependence of climate, ecosystems and biodiversity, and people. It integrates natural, ecological, social, and economic sciences more strongly than in earlier IPCC assessments. It provides new knowledge and information at regional levels and focuses on cities where the majority of the people of the planet live and opportunities for adaptation and mitigation arise.

“Critically, this report highlights the importance of including and using diverse forms of knowledge, such as Indigenous and local knowledge. But, most importantly, it emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”

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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.