Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry. Land use change is not included. Image: Our World in Data.

World - 8 Key Findings from the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations is the foremost entity devoted to advancing scientific knowledge about anthropogenic climate change. Established in 1988, the agency carries out the biggest and most internationally-recognised peer reviewed process in the scientific community on climate change.

The premier authority on climate change has recently wrapped up its sixth assessment, following the March 2023 release of its Synthesis Report(AR6). The 8.000-page IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) is the most comprehensive and ambitious study ever conducted by the intergovernmental body and the “starkest warning yet” to be delivered.

The Sixth Assessment Report is the last of six major comprehensive reports released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 1988. Within climate change broadly, they have published 14 specific reports on particular topics such as ocean and cryosphere, land use, and renewable energy.

Peer-reviewed sources are a foundational core of the IPCC’s body of work. Indeed, the Panel does not carry out its own research, but rather assesses scientific papers and independent findings from other scientific bodies and entities. Through this kind of research, the IPCC carries out three distinct working groups:

  • Working Group I: Assesses the physical science basis of climate change.
  • Working Group II: Assesses climate change Impact, adaption, and vulnerability.
  • Working Group III: Assesses mitigation of climate change.

It is estimated that over 8,000 scientists from 195 different countries have contributed to the IPCC reports throughout the years.  The collective efforts of governments, the private sector, civil society, and academia are vital to the approval, adoption, and acceptance phases of each published report.  

Common themes are found in the potential destruction caused by rising greenhouse gases (GHG), including rising global temperatures, extreme weather events (droughts, floods, etc.), and sea level rise.  Fortunately, it is not all gloom and doom.  There is still time, but we must make immediate steps now to limit warming to 1.5C, the critical threshold agreed upon by 195 countries with the 2015 Paris Agreement.  That is only possible through immediate actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions, with the intent of halving emissions by 2030.

As stated in the Sixth Assessment Report: “The magnitude and rate of climate change and associated risks depend strongly on near-term mitigation and adaptation actions, and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages escalate with every increment of global warming.”

8 Key Findings from IPCC 6th Assessment Report

1. Climate change is happening, it is the result of reckless human activities and a threat to human and natural systems

The IPCC AR6 states that: “Human-caused climate change is a consequence of more than a century of net GHG emissions from energy use, land-use and land use change, lifestyle and patterns of consumption, and production.”  

For decades, humans have been burning fossil fuels to produce energy needed to manufacture things like cement, iron, steel, electronics, plastics, clothes and other goods and have been cutting down forests at unprecedented rates to free up land for urban development and agricultural land. These activities release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which trap heat and cause global temperatures to rise.

Global fossil fuel consumption has more than doubled in the last 50 years, as countries around the world aim to improve their standards of living and economic output. In 1971, the world consumed approximately 4 billion metric tons of oil. In 2018, the number surpassed 8 billion metric tons. The rate of deforestation has also been increasing since 2015, with an estimated 10 million hectares of primary forest being cleared each year. Current agricultural practices are not sustainable in the long term, as they lead to a range of environmental problems, such as soil erosion, water pollution, and biodiversity loss. The greenhouse gas emissions associated with these practices are an issue as well. Around 25% to 30% of global emissions nowadays come from our food systems and agricultural products, according to estimates.

Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry. Land use change is not included
Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry. Land use change is not included. Image: Our World in Data.

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2. Global temperatures are rising, glaciers are melting, and sea levels are rising

The average global temperature has increased by over 0.08C (0.014F) since the pre-industrial era and is projected to keep rising in the coming decades. As the climate heats up, rainfall patterns change, evaporation increases, glaciers melt, and sea levels rise.  Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years.  

The likely range of total human-caused global surface temperature increase from 1850-1900 to 2010-2019 is 0.8C to 1.3C, with a best estimate of 1.07C.  Sea-level rise projections show that, even if the world follows a low greenhouse gas pathway, the level of sea rises globally will continue to rise up to about 0.7 meters by the end of this century.  This risks the displacement of one in every 10 people on the planet and triggers massive economic, social, and cultural disruptions worldwide.  

The rate at which glaciers are disappearing has risen 57% since the 1990s, and under current warming trends, two-thirds of Earth’s glaciers may vanish by 2100.  The global mass of glaciers decreased by an average of 0.42 metres of water equivalent per year between 2000 and 2019. Additionally, the rate of melting has increased sharply, with an average loss of 0.75 meters of water equivalent per year in the same timeframe and potential catastrophic consequences for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Humans are responsible for changes in global surface temperature. Image: Figure 2.1 IPCC-AR6-SYR.

Humans are responsible for changes in global surface temperature. Image: Figure 2.1 IPCC AR6 SYR.

3. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are increasing

Extreme weather events include floods, heatwaves, droughts, and tropical cyclones.

These events are capable of causing huge loss of lives and properties. The scientific community unanimously agrees that global warming is exacerbating the intensity of these events as it increases the evaporation of surface waters into the atmosphere, affecting rain patterns worldwide. Several studies provide undeniable evidence that rising global temperatures have made events such as the Horn of Africa drought and last year’s record-breaking heatwaves in the Northern Hemisphere up to 100 times more likely.  More than half of the global population already contends with severe water scarcity for at least one month per year and by 2050, droughts might affect up to two-thirds of the world’s population.    

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