Global Warming: there is still time, but we need to act now, and fast.

Published on 06.26.2023
Middle School High School
Life and earth sciences

10 min read

In March 2023, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published a synthesis report on all the studies conducted since 2015 on global climate change. Its conclusion was that there are many realistic and effective solutions available to us, to limit average to 1.5°C. There is one condition however, that we: “act now, on all fronts — on everything, everywhere, all at once.”

 

Jeunes gens collant des images sur une bache blanche pour constituer une fresque du climat
- Fresque du climat réalisée en avril 2023 en France, s'inspirant du rapport du GIEC

The Earth is getting warmer

Since the 1850s and the success of the industrial revolution, the Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.1°C. This increase is the result of one and a half centuries of burning fossil fuels, and the non-sustainable use of energy and land. Unless the global wake-up call is heeded, global warming could exceed 1.5°C as from 2030, reach 2°C around 2050 and rise above 3°C in 2100. But it's nothing to worry about, is it? Well, it actually is, because it affects global resources and an overall increase in temperature would cause uncontrollable disruptions to life on Earth.

 

The greenhouse effect

Global warming is caused by the .  Gases naturally present in the atmosphere, in particular water vapor, CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, act a bit like the panes of glass in a greenhouse.  They let the sun’s rays pass, and trap part of the inside, which is a good thing, otherwise the average temperature on Earth would be around -20°C. However, the atmosphere in the greenhouse must not become suffocating. A 2°C increase is already too much, and any higher would be disastrous for the climate. 

+1.5°C:
the average global temperature increase not to be exceeded

IPCC studies

For over 30 years now, the IPCC, which groups together scientists from all over the world, has been assessing knowledge on climate change. Every six or seven years, it publishes a synthesis report. The fifth report served as a scientific basis for the Paris Agreement in December 2015. The sixth report is to be used as the basis for the next conference attended by the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The conference (COP28) is to be held in December 2023 in Dubai (United Arab Emirates).

The work done by the IPCC involved over 1,000 scientists, who examined more than 85,000 publications, and factored in more than 300,000 comments from proof readers.1

 

Causes of global warming

In its successive reports, the IPCC has established that human activities are the main cause of the increase in global warming since 1850. Modern societies have generated more and more greenhouse gas emissions: by creating more and more industries that consume vast quantities of energy. By developing road, air and maritime transport, increasing farming areas to the detriment of forests and wetlands, and by improving living conditions. All these developments have, of course, improved our home comforts and almost eradicated major famines and extreme poverty in the world!

The primary culprit factor in global warming is the build-up of carbon dioxide CO2 emissions, which result from burning carbon (fossil fuels – , oil and gas).  Close behind are methane emissions, which have a short life span, but a high global warming potential (known as the GWP). Their GWP is much greater than that of CO2, which however remains for longer in the atmosphere (it takes 100 years to eliminate a large half of the generated surplus).

Did you know ?
“Carbon neutrality” as from 2050: the target objective to curb global warming.

 

The consequences…

According to the IPCC, any further global warming will rapidly accentuate the dangers we are exposed to. It heightens certain extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent and stronger. The IPCC report highlights:

  • Heatwaves and extremely high temperatures, storms and torrential rain (7% more water vapor per °C of temperature increase), and at the same time, agricultural drought.
  • Growing insecurity as regards food and water supplies that threaten human health and ecosystems. 
  • The melting of the , i.e. ice floe, which will increase the pace and extent of the rise in sea level, and therefore increase the risk of coastal zone submersion.

“Southern” countries, which are the poorest, least developed and which have therefore made the smallest contribution to global warming since 1850, will be more heavily impacted. Even countries which currently have a mild climate will be threatened, because the temperature increases are highly variable.  For example, an average global increase of 2°C by 2050, could correspond to a 3°C increase in France.

 

...and the solutions

The IPCC considers that there are solutions, but action needs to be taken immediately and “everywhere”. To remain under the 1.5°C threshold, emissions need to be reduced by almost 50% by 2030. By mid-century, we need to achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions. This means that anthropic (generated by humans) emissions must be reduced to a level as close to zero as possible, and the remaining emissions reabsorbed by human actions (e.g. technical CO2 capture and storage solutions or natural solutions to restore land and improve forest management).  Many countries, and in particular the European Union, have announced a “carbon neutrality” objective by the middle of the century, but if the actions taken are not sufficient, the emissions generated by human activities will continue to grow.

Tangible solutions include:

  • Reducing dependency on fossil fuels as much as possible and prioritizing the use of renewables and .
  • Improving the insulation of new and old buildings.
  • Making the transition to electric mobility and developing new biofuels, encouraging “soft” mobility options.
  • Combining technological innovations to improve and foster more responsible individual behaviors to contribute to saving energy.
  • Increasing financial resources - “green” investments need to be multiplied by a factor of three to six, whereas transfers from northern to southern countries are set to hit a figure of approximately 100 billion dollars per year.

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1. The synthesis report of the sixth assessment cycle (2015-2023) factors in the conclusions from three special reports from 2018-2019 and the three full working group reports from 2021-2022.

 

Sources:

The IPCC synthesis report  

The IPCC press release summarizing the conclusions