The new report on climate change from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is sounding alarms around the world. According to a large group of international climate scientists, our planet is not on the brink of crisis, but already deep in crisis mode, with temperatures rising rapidly. The many heatwaves, droughts, storms, floods, and other extreme disasters that we have been experiencing over the past 20 years are a direct result of global warming.
The silver lining of the report is that there is, indeed, a solution: we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero, seek green sources of energy, reduce the use of plastic, and generally act in a more environmentally responsible manner.
The Threat is Real
According to the IPCC report, the past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850 and the Arctic will likely be ice-free in September at least once before 2050. In other words, there is no denying that climate change is real and the earth is warming up.
Unfortunately, we have already seen the results of this deterioration. Turkey and Greece are being devastated by wildfires. Germany and China suffered deadly floods in July. Hurricanes around the world have increased in both frequency and strength consistently year over year.
Scientists warn that if we continue our course without reducing global emissions, these disasters are only the beginning. Unfortunately, these warnings are no longer considered scare tactics but accurate predictions of what our future holds unless we make substantial changes.
The Security Threat of Climate Change
The IPCC report mainly focuses on the dangerous weather events that will increase in force and frequency in the coming years if global emissions are not reduced. But another aspect of climate change is the security threat. In 2020, a report produced by the National Security, Military and Intelligence Panel (NSMIP) of the Center for Climate and Security stressed that climate change can lead to “high-to-catastrophic threats to security,” including increased social and political instability and risks to US military missions and infrastructure.
In January 2021, following President Biden’s executive orders aimed at the climate change crisis, the Pentagon announced that it considers climate change a national security risk and will take it into account when planning its National Defense Strategy.
The US and other countries will need to deal with increased international hostilities caused by climate change as well as the mass immigration that may be spurred by people seeking to leave newly unstable areas.
Time Is of the Essence
Countries must work both independently and in unison to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly. The Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 parties in 2015, calls for limiting the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, emissions must be reduced significantly, with the ultimate goal being zero emissions by 2050.
While the Paris Agreement is a good start, countries have been slow in setting goals and implementing changes. The IPCC’s new report highlights the urgency of the matter. Emission goals must be reevaluated and greener alternatives must be given top priority in every country.
As individuals, we should also do our own part to reduce our carbon footprint. The New York Times offers terrific, practical advice on how to do this. Unfortunately, the IPCC report says that we are on track to reach 1.5 °C by 2040. If we do not reduce emissions significantly, we will reach that milestone much more quickly.
The Cost & Benefit of Reducing Emissions
Reducing carbon emissions is easier said than done. Essentially, it means an entire overhaul of the way global industries operate. The cost can easily go into the trillions. The benefits, however, are immeasurable.
For starters, weather and sea disasters lead to billions in damages. Hurricane Katrina alone caused over $80 billion in property damages, and the recent floods in China’s Henan province will also cost billions to repair the damage. Those are just two events out of many.
It is clear that reducing emissions is the most financially-savvy move in the long-run. But even more devastating than the property damage is the human toll these extreme disasters have taken. Too many people have already died. Reducing global emissions can literally save lives, and these are not the lives of random people but the lives of our children, families, friends, neighbors, and even our own.
The IPCC report has thrown down the gauntlet. We know the stakes of not reducing emissions. Now it’s time for action.