September 25, 2019—Today, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading body of climate scientists, released the summary for policymakers of its Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (the cryosphere refers to areas containing frozen water, such as glaciers and snowcapped mountains). More than 100 scientists from 30 countries examined thousands of peer-reviewed studies to assess the impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans, as well as its coastal, polar, and mountain regions. Their conclusions were grim.
“Global warming of 1 degree Celsius has already taken place, and the impacts are already being felt: rising sea levels, disappearing glaciers, more extreme weather, marine heatwaves…” noted EESI Executive Director Carol Werner. “Already severe, these impacts will only get worse as we continue to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”
Climate impacts will severely disrupt communities throughout the world. Rising sea levels will endanger coastal cities and small island nations, and likely force millions to migrate further inland. The IPCC expects sea levels to rise between 1.28 and 2.8 feet by 2100, and flood damages are projected to increase 100- or even 1,000-fold. Disappearing mountain glaciers in Asia and South America will leave hundreds of millions without reliable sources of water for drinking and farming during the dry season. Acidification, caused by the higher levels of atmospheric carbon seeping into oceans, is harming marine ecosystems, including zooplankton which form the basis of the food chain. Marine heatwaves are contributing to the creation of dead zones—vast oxygen-depleted areas devoid of fish. Melting permafrost in Arctic regions could unleash billions of tons of additional carbon, creating a vicious feedback loop.
Most nations have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, which calls for global warming to remain significantly below 2 degrees Celsius. But even if all of their pledges are kept, global temperatures are expected to rise more than 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
“A 3-degree rise in global temperatures would be absolutely devastating,” says Carol Werner. “World leaders meeting in New York for the U.N. Global Assembly must recognize their responsibilities as leaders at this critical point in time and commit to action that will really make a difference.”