Greta Thunberg has been a ubiquitous figure in the news lately, thanks to her speech before Congress urging political leaders to act on climate change, her involvement in the Global Climate Strike on September 20 — which itself grew out of Thunberg’s “school strike for climate — and her powerful remarks at the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit (below). But while the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist’s impassioned plea for climate justice has inspired an international movement, what’s inspired Thunberg herself is warming of just a half-degree Celsius. A half-degree Celsius that will make a world of difference according to climate scientists.
On numerous occasions, Thunberg (pronounced Tun-bury) has referenced either directly or indirectly the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its landmark Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C published in 2018. The report, which has the full title of “Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty,” basically summarizes what the difference between 1.5°C and 2.0°C (or 2.7 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming would look like in terms of impact on humanity and Earth.
It’s only half a degree Celsius, but the effect that half a degree would have on the environment is staggering. After reading through the highlights from the report, it becomes abundantly clear why Thunberg is so devastated by the indifference leaders have toward the effect of such a small, yet global change in temperature: It could be the difference between being able to “undo our mistakes” ( Thunberg’s words) and not.
— IPCC (@IPCC_CH) September 22, 2019
Thunberg is right to lean on the IPCC and its 2018 report for the bulk of her argument in favor of immediate, drastic action toward climate change. The IPCC is, without a doubt, the most reliable source of information on the latest climate science because it isn’t a body that performs its own research. Instead, the IPCC reports are each an amalgam of what climate scientists from across the world are reporting.
The IPCC reports, which have come in five comprehensive assessments since the body’s establishment in 1988 by the United Nations, alert world leaders to the consensus analysis of the state of the climate based on estimates provided by scientists from around the world. Hoesung Lee, current Chair of the IPCC, said that the 2018 report cited more than 6,000 references and “the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers….” The IPCC is also funded by an independent trust, with voluntary donations made by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Considering the IPCC’s background, and its methodology for coming to a truthful conclusion about what’s happening to the world’s climate, it is indeed terrifying to hear about the details of destruction in the 2018 report. For example, with a 1.5°C increase in global temperature, we’ll likely lose 70-90% of the ocean’s coral reefs, but with 2.0°C, more than 99%. With 1.5°C, the Arctic Ocean will be free of sea ice in summer once per century; at 2.0°C, once per decade. With 1.5°C we’ll lose 6% of insects and 8% of plants and trees; with 2.0°C those numbers triple and double respectively.
Allowing the global temperature to rise beyond 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, even temporarily, could mean, according to the IPCC report, “a greater reliance on techniques that remove CO2 from the air to return global temperature to below 1.5°C by 2100″ even though such techniques “are unproven at large scale and… may carry significant risks for sustainable development.”
Priyardarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of one of the IPCC’s three “Working Groups” (the three groups perform different functions within the IPCC), said during the 2018 report’s approval panel in Incheon, Republic of Korea, that “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared with 2°C would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health and well-being, making it easier to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.” She added that “The next few years are probably the most important in our history.”
If these are the numbers and statements and research that Thunberg has weighing on her mind constantly, it’s only reasonable that she call for “panic.” Thunberg’s right when she says that “our house is on fire.” The rhetoric is finally matching up with the research. Now it’ll come time to see how hard humanity is willing to work to stop the world from becoming just a tiny bit warmer, and significantly more unlivable.
What’s your opinion of the 2018 IPCC report? And why do you think leaders are having so much trouble understanding what comes so easily to Thunberg? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Feature image: NBC News