“This Was Avoidable,” Climate Activists Say About Grim New Science

The United Nations’ latest climate report says capping global temperature rise at 1.5° C is imperative—and still within reach through immediate, aggressive action.

Mark Hertsgaard,  The Nation, August 8, 2021

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration cofounded by The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The United Nations COP 26 climate summit this November was already set to be one of the most important diplomatic gatherings in history, a meeting where world leaders will—and this is no exaggeration—decide the future of life on earth. Today, in a landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), some of the world’s foremost climate scientists added further urgency to the summit by clarifying that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), as envisioned in the Paris Agreement signed at the last major climate summit in 2015, is imperative. Temperatures have already risen by 1.1 C°; current trends point to a rise of a ruinous 3° C later this century.

The record-shattering heat waves, droughts, fires, and floods that have roiled the planet in recent years are evidence of “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” climate change that is “unprecedented in thousands of years,” Ko Barrett, the vice chair of the United Nations IPCC, told journalists on the eve of releasing volume one of the Sixth Global Assessment report. To close followers of climate science, many of the report’s findings will be familiar—but there are a few surprises. Above all, the report underscores that a temperature rise of more than 1.5° C above the level during the pre-industrial era risks absolute, perhaps irreversible, catastrophe for people and natural systems worldwide.


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