News Environment UN Climate Change Report Is 'Code Red for Humanity' Temperatures are set to drastically rise but slashing greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade could prevent the worst consequences of climate change. By Eduardo Garcia Eduardo Garcia LinkedIn Twitter Writer Columbia University Garcia is an environmental writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Slate, Scientific American, the Daily Mail, and others. Learn about our editorial process Updated August 9, 2021 09:28PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Andrew Merry / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive Despite the dire warnings of a new United Nations report and the expected increase in greenhouse gas emissions this year, the world could potentially prevent the worst consequences of climate change. Eight years in the making, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unveiled a climate change report today warning that unless we drastically reduce carbon emissions, the world’s climate system will go into disarray, disrupting the food system and causing serious harm to human health. The report, which was compiled by more than 200 scientists, found we must pursue “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.” “The IPCC Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis,” which has been heralded as the “most comprehensive” climate change analysis ever, says that the global average temperature will likely “reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming” by 2040. Such an increase would lead to more intense heat waves and longer warm seasons, as well as more destructive and frequent droughts and floods, and sea level rise; but things will be much worse if temperatures rise above the 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) threshold. “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,” the report says. In addition to the report, the IPCC has released an interactive atlas showing how climate change will affect every single world region under different emissions scenarios. It’s worth bearing in mind that much of that temperature increase has already happened. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the global surface temperature in 2020 was 2.14 degrees Fahrenheit (1.19 degrees Celsius) higher than in the pre-industrial period. The effects of that temperature increase have been felt across the world in recent weeks. Wildfires have caused widespread devastation in Greece, Turkey, Siberia, and the U.S. West Coast; flooding has killed scores of people in Germany and China, and the Arctic has seen unprecedented heat. The IPCC said it is “undisputed” that humans are to blame for the temperature increase, adding that “our actions have the potential to determine the future course of climate.” “[This report] is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Carbon emissions are set to increase The report states that to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, global emissions need to decrease by 25% by 2030 and about 50% by 2035 but, so far, that’s not happening. A recent study by REN 21, an organization promoting renewables, found that we still rely on fossil fuels for about 80% of the energy that we consume, a figure that has not changed since 2009. Furthermore, several reports indicate that greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise over the next couple of years. The Energy Information Administration expects energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to rise by 7.1% in the U.S. this year and by 1.5% in 2022. Worldwide, carbon emissions from the electricity sector are forecast to increase by 3.5% in 2021 and by 2.5% in 2022. Altogether, this year the world will likely see the second-largest ever increase in emissions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in April. Make no mistake, humanity is in a bad spot. And yet there are reasons for hope. The U.S., the European Union, and China have unannounced ambitious decarbonization in recent months, opening a window of opportunity to slash emissions over the next decade. Ahead of a U.N. climate summit this fall, world leaders are expected to announce other ambitious goals. “Today’s report makes for sobering reading, and it is clear that the next decade is going to be pivotal to securing the future of our planet … I hope today’s report will be a wake-up call for the world to take action now, before we meet in Glasgow in November for the critical COP26 summit,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Renewable energy capacity expanded by 10.3% in 2020 and the IEA forecasts that the sector will continue growing rapidly. Major economies, including the U.S., the United Kingdom, the EU, and China have unveiled plans to gradually decarbonize their transportation sectors. And there is a lot that we can do at an individual level. In its Emissions Gap Report released in December, the U.N. noted that about two-thirds of emissions are linked to households. Lifestyle changes like switching to a vegetarian diet, not driving cars, installing solar panels, avoiding long-distance flights, and saving energy at home can help reduce emissions. Per capita emissions in the U.S. amount to around 16 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year and to 6.6 metric tons in the EU. In order to have a chance at keeping temperatures from rising above 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), we need to reduce per capita emissions to around 2.0 metric tons. “Governments have a major role in setting the conditions under which lifestyle changes can occur, through shaping policy, regulations and infrastructure investments. At the same time, it is necessary for citizens to be active participants in changing their lifestyles through taking steps to reduce personal emissions,” the report says. View Article Sources "Climate Chanhe Widespread, Rapid, and Intensifying-IPCC." Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2021. Lindsey, Rebecca, and LuAnn Dahlman. "Climate Change: Global Temperature." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2021. "Renewables in Cities 2021 Global Status Report." Ren21, 2021. "U.S. Economic Assumptions and Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions." Energy Information Administration. "Emissions Gap Report 2020." UN Environment Program, 2020. "Global Carbon Budget 2020." Global Carbon Project, 2020.