CSIRO and hub scientist Dr Pep Canadell has contributed to the World Meteorological Organisation’s release of the 2022 United in Science report: a multinational, annual report collating the world’s most recent climate science.
The report reveals the large gap between what needs to be achieved to mitigate global warming, and current global emissions targets. Current emissions levels are alarmingly high. Measurements globally, with one collection site at Tasmania’s Kennaook (Cape Grim), show that we are not on track to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
For the Paris Agreement to be met, global average temperatures must not rise by more than 1.5°C by 2030. To achieve this, emissions reduction pledges must be seven times greater than they currently are. To limit global warming to 2°C, pledges must be four times greater.
But what does 1.5°C and 2°C of warming mean?
The IPCC reports that climate change is already causing widespread changes across the world including intensifying extreme weather events, altered weather patterns and biodiversity loss. To avoid these climate impacts escalating further, scientists strongly recommend limiting the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C. For example, 2°C of warming will impact plant species, extreme heat, coral reefs, insects and lead to ice free summers in the Arctic Ocean among other global changes.
We are reaching climate tipping points
Scientists warn that failure to make drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions increasingly runs the risk of surpassing tipping points. Tipping points are large-scale events which, if triggered, could result in imminent threats to all walks of life. This includes animals, plants and humans.
For countries such as Australia, 2°C of warming would make extreme heat events more frequent. Outdoor labour may become unsafe under high temperatures, and we are likely to see increased pressure on our already overburdened healthcare systems due to heat related illness.The melting of ice sheets, such as those in the Antarctic, would result in sea level rise for coastal communities, and warmer oceans are likely to lead to more mass coral bleaching events, like those we are already experiencing on the Great Barrier Reef.
Extreme Weather Events are Damaging
Not only will climate change have environmental impacts, people’s health will also suffer. More than 3 billion people across the globe are living in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change, with the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions particularly vulnerable. The economy will also be impacted, with economic losses due to weather, water and climate-related disasters predicted to cost Australia $129 billion per year.
Australian research tells us that extreme weather events are increasing and intensifying due to climate change. This has been observed globally, with floods in Pakistan and Australia, heatwaves in Europe, and severe droughts in China, Africa and the United States. These events have long lasting impacts on the communities they affect, and these will worsen as events intensify in a changing climate.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasises the global importance of reducing emissions through mitigation, and adjusting to changes through adaptation.
“(We are) heading into uncharted territory of destruction..with nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters”, he said at the release of the report.
Early warning systems can reduce disaster risk
The World Meteorological Organisation have developed Multi Hazard Early Warning Systems (MHEWS) to better prepare for and respond to extreme weather events. Early warning systems are major factors of disaster risk reduction. A key international priority is ensuring all of us have protection against extreme events. Currently MHEWS are present in less than 50 percent of countries. Global adoption of MHEWS needs to be prioritised in the next five years to save lives and reduce losses caused by extreme disaster events.
What comes next?
The United in Science report provides practical solutions to address climate change, and brings together scientists from all over the world. This report synthesises necessary information on global emissions, and sets an important pretence for climate action. Engagement across a wide range of stakeholders is necessary to reduce impacts and adjust to changes impacting the entire globe. In any case, the hub will continue to contribute to global scientific research and be part of the global effort required to reduce emissions, and avoid warming over 1.5°C.