The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has launched a high-stakes, all-virtual marathon meeting aimed at finalizing a key climate science report, the first volume of the world’s first comprehensive climate change assessment in nearly a decade.
“Over the next two weeks, the scientists will go through their findings line by line with representatives of 195 governments,” the BBC reports. “It is expected that the short, 40-page Summary for Policymakers will play an important role in guiding global leaders who will come to Glasgow in November to deal with critical climate questions.”
That summary, due for release August 9, is expected to be a “wake-up call” for governments, experts say, not unlike another recent IPCC production—its landmark, October 2018 report on how to hold average global warming to 1.5°C.
“The 1.5°C report was really kind of instrumental for young people to use that science to marshal their efforts towards action,” IPCC vice-chair Ko Barrett, head of research at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told BBC. “I think maybe the report surprised us all, that the report had such an impact in getting people to think, wow, this is not some big future problem. This is, like, right now.”
The report will land in the midst of devastating climate and extreme weather disasters spanning the globe, while environment and energy ministers from the world’s richest countries dither on such basic measures as phasing out coal or extending climate finance to the world’s most vulnerable.
“I think it’s going to be a wake-up call, there’s no doubt about that,” Richard Black, an honourary research fellow at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said of the upcoming science report. “But then again, so are some of the real world events that we’re seeing around us at the moment.”
Reuters points to those events as essential context for the IPCC’s deliberations. “The list of extremes in just the last few weeks has been startling,” the news agency writes. “Unprecedented rains followed by deadly flooding in central China and Europe. Temperatures of 120°F/49°C in Canada, and tropical heat in Finland and Ireland. The Siberian tundra ablaze. Monstrous U.S. wildfires, along with record drought across the U.S. West and parts of Brazil.”
“Global warming was well projected, but now you see it with your own eyes,” said University of East Anglia climate scientist Corinne Le Quéré.
“It’s not so much that climate change itself is proceeding faster than expected—the warming is right in line with model predictions from decades ago,” added veteran Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann. “Rather, it’s the fact that some of the impacts are greater than scientists predicted.”
A new study this week in the journal Nature Climate Change adds another degree of urgency, concluding that the likelihood of record-shattering extreme heat will increase rapidly over the next three decades. “The research found that highly populated regions in North America, Europe, and China were where the record-shattering extremes are most likely to occur,” The Guardian reports.
In contrast to past heat studies, which have usually compared future warming trends to past records, “the new computing modelling study instead looked for the first time at the highest margins by which week-long heat wave records could be broken in future,” the paper adds. “It found that heat waves that smash previous records by roughly 5°C would become two to seven times more likely in the next three decades and three to 21 times more likely from 2051–2080, unless carbon emissions are immediately slashed.”
Those extremes, The Guardian adds, “are all but impossible without global heating.”
BBC digs into how the IPCC process works, what results to expect, and what could possibly go wrong with the panel’s first-ever approval session held virtually.