• Eugene Puryear

Hurtling Towards Climate Disaster: New IPCC Report Gives Shocking Glimpse of The Future

Updated: Apr 8

The following is a lightly edited transcription from The Punch Out with Eugene Puryear, a daily news podcast that comes out Monday through Friday, 5pm ET. Subscribe here.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the main United Nations entity that studies and presents reports on the climate crisis, continues to release stunning documents about what is needed to truly save the planet. As we reported on The Punch Out a few weeks ago when the document release began, the situation is dire.

The most recent report released on Monday reiterates that the only way to avoid a downward spiral into truly catastrophic consequences is to prevent global average temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

“This is a climate emergency,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres. He noted that the wealthiest economies and nations “are not just turning a blind eye; they are adding fuel to the flames. They are choking our planet, based on their vested interests and historic investments in fossil fuels, when cheaper, renewable solutions provide green jobs, energy security and greater price stability.”

In order to reach the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, the world would have to reduce all global emissions by 43% by 2030 — so in the next 8 years. By 2050 the globe will have had to reduce emissions by 84% to be on track to hold below 1.5 degrees warming, 75% to hold below 2% warming. However, the world is only on track, at the current rate, to reduce emissions by a few percentage points. We are far away from where we need to be, with no time to spare. Even if all existing climate commitments to reduce emissions are met, which is an unlikely best-case scenario, global temperatures would rise by 2.7 degrees by 2100.

The IPCC projects that, based on current trends, by 2050 the globe will still be emitting somewhere between 50 and 60 billion tons of greenhouse gasses a year. To limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, that figure would have to be at about 20 billion. To reach 1.5 degrees, it would have to be 10 billion tons.

The trends are so bad that if we can’t reach our best-case scenario goals by 2030, IPCC models show that there is a very low likelihood we can limit warming to 1.5 degrees — in fact, nearly impossible.

What are the implications of this? Even at 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, the peak to prevent irreversible climate destruction, the IPCC projects that 3-14% of all animal species on earth are “likely” to face “very high risk” of extinction. Just that level of warming would produce “unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans.”

At 2 degrees warming, the situation is even worse. According to a previous IPCC report, 20% of the water that flows from snowy peaks into rivers would be gone. Relatedly, that report notes that at 2 degrees: “food security risks due to climate change will be more severe, leading to malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies, concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Central and South America and Small Islands.”

Further, at 2 degrees there would be five times the current number of floods, storms, drought and heat waves by 2100.

So what happens at 2.7 degrees, the figure that I mentioned earlier if the world’s governments fulfill their current commitments? That is nearly 3 degrees. If the world reaches 3 degrees, roughly one out of every three species on the planet will be at very high risk of extinction. At 4 degrees warming, by the way, nearly half of all species will be at very high risk of extinction. That figure isn’t so far-fetched because 2.7 degrees is only a “best case scenario” and many governments are not meeting their commitments.

In short, at our current trajectory we are looking at mass hunger, mass extinction, billions of climate refugees, five times the number of floods, droughts and deadly heat waves by the end of the century.

It is hard to overstate how far we are now from where we need to be. According to the report, governments and corporations would have to significantly increase the $600 billion spent annually on trying to mitigate the effects of climate change. It projects the need for $1.8 trillion to $3.6 trillion a year, three to six times the current funding.

To put those figures into perspective, in the U.S., which has the largest emissions per person on earth, the climate plan currently in Congress is only proposing $55 billion per year over ten years. Even that could be reduced, and it is not terribly likely the climate portion of the Build Back Better plan will even pass as a standalone bill this year.

In addition to funding needs, another way to look at this situation is in relationship to emissions. The climate proposals in Congress were projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030. That is 45% from 2005 levels. However, the problem with that is, for the US to be on track to hold warming at 1.5 degrees, the US would need to reduce emissions by 195% from 2005 levels. So the climate plan in front of Congress is 150% below the level of reductions needed to hold emissions to a level somewhere short of catastrophic.

Despite the bill’s woeful inadequacy at meeting the scale of the problem, Democratic members of Congress are already briefing the media that they are willing to accept a bill that actually would increase emissions over the next few years, just to say that they passed something.

All told, the situation is incredibly dire. Quite frankly, the full report is even a bit worse than how it sounds here. But the political will to act decisively, at least in the advanced capitalist countries which are the world’s largest emitters, is almost nowhere to be found. The IPCC report only made a few front pages. If all this is alarming to you, the time to act is now — to hold them accountable and to demand much, much more.