New UN report warns of deadly climate change consequences
A new report from a United Nations climate panel is warning of the deadly effects of climate change both now and in the future — and finding that they are currently worse than scientists had believed they would be.
The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of health risks from climate change, including from heat exposure, disease and mental health issues.
It said that globally, extreme heat events have already resulted in deaths. And it said that since the last time the IPCC issued a report in 2014, there have been more extreme events, including “heat-related human mortality,” that have been attributed to human-caused climate change.
The panel’s report described major additional risks in the decades to come, particularly between the years 2040 and 2100.
“Climate change and related extreme events will significantly increase ill health and premature deaths from the near- to long-term,” said a summary of the findings.
In particular, the panel raised concern about exposure to heat waves as well as food-borne and water-borne disease risks and disease from pests like mosquitoes. It particularly warned of increases in the risk of diseases from a certain type of mosquito, “potentially putting additional billions of people at risk by the end of the century.”
And it warned of increased mental health issues such as anxiety and stress.
The report also warned that some of the effects currently being seen are worse than previously projected.
“The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments,” the summary said, particularly highlighting “substantial damages” and “increasingly irreversible losses” to ecosystems and “shifts in seasonal timing.”
“We’re seeing adverse impacts being much more widespread and being much more negative than expected in prior reports than expected at the current 1.09 degrees that we have,” Camille Parmesan, one of the report’s authors, told reporters, referring to the current level of warming compared to pre-industrial levels.
Parmesan added that the world is seeing impacts that it previously did not expect to see at the current level of warming, such as “diseases emerging into new areas” and “the first extinctions of species due to climate change.”
Scientists and policymakers alike said the report was a stark warning.
“Today’s IPCC report paints a dire picture of the impacts already occurring because of a warmer world and the terrible risks to our planet if we continue to ignore science,” U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry said in a statement.
He called for a strong response, as legislative action in the U.S. has been stalled amid disagreements over President Biden’s climate and social spending agenda.
“Denial and delay are not strategies, they are a recipe for disaster,” Kerry said. “The best scientists in the world have shown us that we must accelerate adaptation action, with urgency and at scale. Our efforts to date have been too small and too fragmented to match the scale of the impacts we are already experiencing, let alone the threats we expect in the future.”
The report also noted potential issues with infrastructure, particularly in coastal areas. It said that globally, about a billion people are projected to be at risk from coastal-specific climate hazards in the mid-term.
While the world is already grappling with climate change, the report said that the outcomes going forward will vary based on how urgently the world acts now to mitigate and adapt to it.
“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,” the IPCC report said.
It noted, for example, that without adaptation, if the planet warms by 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels, projected increases in flood damages are expected to be up to twice as high as if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees.
And it called for adaptation in urban and rural planning, such as planned relocations in low-lying cities to counter sea level rise. For energy systems, it called for increased resilience, reliability, storage and efficiency as well as diversification, including through small-scale renewable energy.
Overall, the report’s authors noted that how dire the circumstances become depend on how much the world can limit warming.
“Every increased amount of warming will increase the risk of severe impacts,” said Rachel Bezner Kerr, one of the authors, discussing risks to food systems.
“And so the more rapid we can take strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the less the severe impacts will be,” she added.