TCSS Security Commentaries #020

Humankind has already dramatically changed the Earth’s climate and has been experiencing extreme weather models, more climate catastrophes, destruction of nature, and human suffering. In the most optimistic scenario, governments are still unable to meet net-zero pledges on time.

Thuong Nguyen, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

The IPCC published its sixth assessment report on Monday last week. In which it asserted that climate change is happening much faster than previously thought, and the climate crisis caused by human greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) is irrefutable by all measures of data and science.

What Do We Know from This Landmark Report?

According to global climate experts—234 global experts worked on and contributed to the report—the world has rapidly warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius due to our excessive reliance on fossil fuels. In all scenarios, from the most optimistic to the most pessimistic, by 2030, the Earth’s temperature will increase from 1.5°C to 1.6°C higher than pre-industrial levels, which is 10 years earlier than the forecast made by the IPCC team 3 years ago. Thus, unequivocally, humans have caused this catastrophic climate crisis that is transforming life on earth both widespread and increasingly dramatically.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Today’s report is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are ringing, and report must be a death knell for fossil fuels.” Even under the most optimistic scenario, in which the world’s emissions reach the target of net zero by 2050, global temperature will still peak above the 1.5-degree threshold before falling.

In a climate without human influence, the frequency and increase in intensity of extreme temperature event that occur once per 10 years on average.

Source: IPCC, 2021: Summary for policymakers

Natural climate “allies” are getting weaker. From 1960 to the present, forests, land, and oceans still absorb 56% of CO2 emitted by human activities into the atmosphere. Without these “allies”, our planet would have become much hotter and humans could not live on Earth. However, the proportion of CO2 absorbed by “carbon wells” is projected to decrease this century.

This report emphasizes that with new advances in science, it is now possible to quantify the role of atmospheric warming in a particular extreme weather event.

Sea level has risen by 20cm since 1900 and its rate has tripled in the past ten years due to the impact of melting glaciers. If the Earth’s temperature increases by 2°C, the water level of the oceans could rise by 50cm and this increase could reach nearly 2 meters between now and 2300, which is twice as much as predicted by the IPCC 2019. In the most pessimistic scenario, experts do not even rule out the possibility that the sea level will rise by 2 meters as soon as year 2100.

This has severe effects on coastal countries, who are the leading victims of rising sea levels due to global warming. Following the publication of the IPCC report, the 39 countries of AOSIS (the Alliance of Small Island States) issued a joint statement, calling on the world to take urgent action. If the temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius, the sea level will rise by at least 3m, threatening the survival of these island nations.

The IPCC has never been so alarmed about methane (CH4), which is the second highest proponent in GHGs emissions after CO2. According to UN experts, if CH4 emissions are not cut down significantly, humanity will not meet the climate goals of the 2016 Paris Agreement.

Our Earth is More Frequently Experiencing Extreme Heat Waves

Many climate researchers said that our Earth has been heating up rapidly and its effects are no longer in the distant future because we knew the “known unknowns” that are happening now.

“I don’t think we’re out of time, but I think we’re getting dangerously close to when we might  be out of time”, COP26 President – Alok Sharma MP said.

In mid-July, several European countries, notably Germany and Belgium, suffered terrible floods due to continuous heavy rains, killing more than 200 people. Floods have also caused heavy damage in neighboring countries such as the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the rainfall on July 14 and 15 in those countries was equal to two months’ average rainfall.

The IPCC says heavy rainfall, unusual heat waves, and other extreme climate phenomena that rarely occur before now happen more and more frequently; thus, humanity is forced to adapt to such phenomena if they have not reached the Paris Agreement.

China also suffered from unprecedented floods, especially in Zhengzhou city of Henan province. At least 56 people had died from the most recent flood earlier this month. There, the rainfall captured in 3 days is equivalent to the amount of rain for a whole year.

Meanwhile, a heatwave killed more than 200 people this summer in Canada. The temperature skyrocketed unusually at the end of June, sometimes reaching nearly 50° C. Besides, the US California and Oregon also suffered a similar heatwave, leading to violent fires. The largest wildfire, “Bootleg Fire”, in Oregon in two weeks burned an area of forest equivalent to the size of Los Angeles.

Temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctic are rising 2 to 3 times faster than in the rest of the globe. This warming is upsetting the “jet stream”; going counterclockwise at the North Pole, leading to this reversal that causes atmospheric depressions and storms to move slower in the summer and fall seasons.

People around the globe will more frequently face climate crises, such as melting glaciers, extreme flooding from higher sea levels, and sea level itself will rise until the 22nd century due to the amount of heat the oceans have already trapped.

What Should We Do Now?

There have been many governments pledging to reduce GHG emissions to a net-zero goal. Nevertheless, less than a quarter of announced net-zero pledges have specific measures or policies to deliver them thoroughly and on time. 

According to the IEA (International Energy Agency) report earlier this year, human carbon emissions will “surge by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021, the second-largest increase in history, reversing most of last year’s decline caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Some say there is an urgent need for immediate, rapid, and unprecedented transformational change of GHG emissions to net-zero by 2050. It will be a pathway forward that still has the potential to determine the future of our planet.

At COP26 in Glasgow, countries have the final chance to heed the warnings of the IPCC report and act on the many calls for Climate Action coming from leaders around the world.

“Every decision, every day, and every fraction of a degree counts. Together we can do this, if we act now.”

Nigel Topping – UK’s High Level Climate Champion