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UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important & What It Means for India

The report says that every region of the world has undergone irreversible damage due to climate change.

Updated
Climate Change
6 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Evidence connects human-caused climate change to heat waves. Image used for representational purposes.&nbsp;</p></div>
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A landmark new report by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate (IPCC) has said that every region of the world is seeing irreversible damage due to climate change, adding that there were "no pathways" to contain global temperature rise to less than 1.5°C in the next few decades without crossing that threshold later.

The report, however, said that it may be possible to bring down global temperatures after crossing that threshold by the end of the century.

UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important & What It Means for India

  1. 1. WHAT IS THE IPCC REPORT? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

    The IPCC was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization. Its mission was to provide global policymakers with periodic, scientific assessments of climate change to guide national and global policies.

    The reports by IPCC assess the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.

    The findings of the IPCC reports state the "level of confidence" with which they are made. However, the reports usually do not make any policy recommendations.

    The last such assessment report by the IPCC was released in 2013.

    This specific report, Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) 'Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis', is one part of the IPCC's sixth assessment report, the release of which was delayed by almost a year due to COVID-19.

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important &amp; What It Means for India</p></div>

    UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important & What It Means for India

    (Photo: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

    The report culminates five years of assessment-oriented research, writing and review, with approvals from over 234 leading scientists across 60 countries. It is estimated that the scientists analysed almost 14,000 climate change research papers from around the world.

    The first report of the sixth assessment covers the physical science basis of climate change. The second will cover the impact, adaptation and vulnerability of climate change-affected groups. The third will cover the economics and mitigation of climate change.

    The two other reports will be released in 2022, culminating into a synthesis report to be released in September 2022.

    The report is the first by the IPCC that emphasises as much on the regional impact of climate change, extreme weather events and how they are linked with human activities.

    It was approved by 195 member governments of the IPCC through virtual sessions held over two weeks since 26 July.

    Expand
  2. 2. WHAT DOES THE NEW IPCC REPORT SAY?

    The IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) 'Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis' finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming. The report also states that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900.

    It further says that climate events like those caused by sea-level rise, which would happen once in a century earlier, could begin to take place once every year.

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important &amp; What It Means for India</p></div>

    UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important & What It Means for India

    (Photo: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

    "Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion – such as continued sea level rise – are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years", says a statement by the IPCC. "However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change. While benefits for air quality would come quickly, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilize," it added.

    The report provided new estimates of the chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5°C in the next decades and found that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.

    But it is not just about temperature. Climate change is bringing multiple different changes in different regions, which will all increase with further warming.

    These include changes to wet and dryness, to winds, snow and ice, coastal areas and oceans.

    The report cited the following as possible changes that this global temperature increase can cause in weather cycles:

    • Climate change is intensifying the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding as well as more intense drought in many regions.

    • Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns. In high latitudes, precipitation is likely to increase while it is projected to decrease over large parts of the subtropics. Changes to monsoon precipitation are expected, which will vary by region.

    • Coastal areas will see continued sea-level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.

    • Further warming will amplify permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of summer Arctic sea ice.

    • Changes to the ocean, including warming, more frequent marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, and reduced oxygen levels have been clearly linked to human influence. These changes affect both ocean ecosystems and the people that rely on them, and they will continue throughout at least the rest of this century.

    • For cities, some aspects of climate change may be amplified, including heat (since urban areas are usually warmer than their surroundings), flooding from heavy precipitation events and sea-level rise in coastal cities.

    Expand
  3. 3. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR INDIA?

    The observations that the IPCC report makes for the weather patterns and its consequences in Asia is of particular importance in the Indian context.

    The most important of these observations, are assessments made about Asian monsoons, which could be telling about the monsoon patterns in India - a country where the monsoon season is a source of life and livelihood.

    "The South and Southeast Asian monsoon has weakened in the second half of the 20th century", said an observation is the report that has been marked as "high confidence".

    "In the long term, South and Southeast Asian monsoon and East Asian summer monsoon precipitation will increase", it added with "medium confidence".

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important &amp; What It Means for India</p></div>

    UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important & What It Means for India

    (Photo: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

    For South Asia specifically, the report said that both annual and summer monsoon precipitation will increase during the 21st century, with "enhanced inter-annual variability", i.e. monsoon patterns will be variable (and difficult to predict) from one year to the next.

    The report also raises a massive warning sign for India's mountains.

    "During the 21st century, snow-covered areas and snow volumes will decrease in most of the Hindu-Kush Himalayan and snowline elevations will rise and glacier volumes will decline", the report said with "high confidence". "A general wetting across the whole Tibetan Plateau and the Himalaya is projected, with increases in heavy precipitation in the 21st century", it added.

    "For India, the predictions in this report mean people labouring in longer and more frequent heat waves, warmer nights for our winter crops, erratic monsoon rains for our summer crops, destructive floods and storms that disrupt power supply for drinking water or medical oxygen production," said Ulka Kelkar, director, climate program, World Resources Institute India (WRI).

    ‘’We need to plan for climate risks while building our cities. We need technology that revolutionize the way we manufacture – with green hydrogen and with recycling. And we need to use our land and natural resources responsibly to support livelihoods," she added.

    Other climate experts spoke about India's precarious position now in the fight against climate change as emission-mitigation strategies and targets earlier provided by nations now seem inadequate.

    "The most important point from the IPCC AR6 report is that the mitigation and adaptation strategies submitted by nations (known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) through the Paris Agreement are insufficient to keep global surface temperature increase within 1.5°C or even 2°C limit. With the global mean temperature rise now going above 1°C, India is at a crucial juncture where we are already facing increasing extreme weather events such as cyclones, floods, droughts and heatwaves. Climate projections unanimously show that all these severe weather conditions will become more frequent and intense with temperatures going up since we humans are not sufficiently curbing the emissions", said Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, senior scientist, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology & Lead Author, IPCC SROCC.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

WHAT IS THE IPCC REPORT? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

The IPCC was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization. Its mission was to provide global policymakers with periodic, scientific assessments of climate change to guide national and global policies.

The reports by IPCC assess the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.

The findings of the IPCC reports state the "level of confidence" with which they are made. However, the reports usually do not make any policy recommendations.

The last such assessment report by the IPCC was released in 2013.

This specific report, Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) 'Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis', is one part of the IPCC's sixth assessment report, the release of which was delayed by almost a year due to COVID-19.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important &amp; What It Means for India</p></div>

UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important & What It Means for India

(Photo: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

The report culminates five years of assessment-oriented research, writing and review, with approvals from over 234 leading scientists across 60 countries. It is estimated that the scientists analysed almost 14,000 climate change research papers from around the world.

The first report of the sixth assessment covers the physical science basis of climate change. The second will cover the impact, adaptation and vulnerability of climate change-affected groups. The third will cover the economics and mitigation of climate change.

The two other reports will be released in 2022, culminating into a synthesis report to be released in September 2022.

The report is the first by the IPCC that emphasises as much on the regional impact of climate change, extreme weather events and how they are linked with human activities.

It was approved by 195 member governments of the IPCC through virtual sessions held over two weeks since 26 July.

ADVERTISEMENT

WHAT DOES THE NEW IPCC REPORT SAY?

The IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) 'Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis' finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming. The report also states that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900.

It further says that climate events like those caused by sea-level rise, which would happen once in a century earlier, could begin to take place once every year.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important &amp; What It Means for India</p></div>

UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important & What It Means for India

(Photo: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

"Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion – such as continued sea level rise – are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years", says a statement by the IPCC. "However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change. While benefits for air quality would come quickly, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilize," it added.

The report provided new estimates of the chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5°C in the next decades and found that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.

But it is not just about temperature. Climate change is bringing multiple different changes in different regions, which will all increase with further warming.

These include changes to wet and dryness, to winds, snow and ice, coastal areas and oceans.

The report cited the following as possible changes that this global temperature increase can cause in weather cycles:

  • Climate change is intensifying the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding as well as more intense drought in many regions.

  • Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns. In high latitudes, precipitation is likely to increase while it is projected to decrease over large parts of the subtropics. Changes to monsoon precipitation are expected, which will vary by region.

  • Coastal areas will see continued sea-level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.

  • Further warming will amplify permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of summer Arctic sea ice.

  • Changes to the ocean, including warming, more frequent marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, and reduced oxygen levels have been clearly linked to human influence. These changes affect both ocean ecosystems and the people that rely on them, and they will continue throughout at least the rest of this century.

  • For cities, some aspects of climate change may be amplified, including heat (since urban areas are usually warmer than their surroundings), flooding from heavy precipitation events and sea-level rise in coastal cities.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR INDIA?

The observations that the IPCC report makes for the weather patterns and its consequences in Asia is of particular importance in the Indian context.

The most important of these observations, are assessments made about Asian monsoons, which could be telling about the monsoon patterns in India - a country where the monsoon season is a source of life and livelihood.

"The South and Southeast Asian monsoon has weakened in the second half of the 20th century", said an observation is the report that has been marked as "high confidence".

"In the long term, South and Southeast Asian monsoon and East Asian summer monsoon precipitation will increase", it added with "medium confidence".

<div class="paragraphs"><p>UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important &amp; What It Means for India</p></div>

UN's New Climate Change Report: Why It's Important & What It Means for India

(Photo: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

For South Asia specifically, the report said that both annual and summer monsoon precipitation will increase during the 21st century, with "enhanced inter-annual variability", i.e. monsoon patterns will be variable (and difficult to predict) from one year to the next.

The report also raises a massive warning sign for India's mountains.

"During the 21st century, snow-covered areas and snow volumes will decrease in most of the Hindu-Kush Himalayan and snowline elevations will rise and glacier volumes will decline", the report said with "high confidence". "A general wetting across the whole Tibetan Plateau and the Himalaya is projected, with increases in heavy precipitation in the 21st century", it added.

"For India, the predictions in this report mean people labouring in longer and more frequent heat waves, warmer nights for our winter crops, erratic monsoon rains for our summer crops, destructive floods and storms that disrupt power supply for drinking water or medical oxygen production," said Ulka Kelkar, director, climate program, World Resources Institute India (WRI).

‘’We need to plan for climate risks while building our cities. We need technology that revolutionize the way we manufacture – with green hydrogen and with recycling. And we need to use our land and natural resources responsibly to support livelihoods," she added.

Other climate experts spoke about India's precarious position now in the fight against climate change as emission-mitigation strategies and targets earlier provided by nations now seem inadequate.

"The most important point from the IPCC AR6 report is that the mitigation and adaptation strategies submitted by nations (known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) through the Paris Agreement are insufficient to keep global surface temperature increase within 1.5°C or even 2°C limit. With the global mean temperature rise now going above 1°C, India is at a crucial juncture where we are already facing increasing extreme weather events such as cyclones, floods, droughts and heatwaves. Climate projections unanimously show that all these severe weather conditions will become more frequent and intense with temperatures going up since we humans are not sufficiently curbing the emissions", said Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, senior scientist, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology & Lead Author, IPCC SROCC.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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