This week, the IPCC published a new report about climate change. For us, this was quite intense, because we are atmospheric scientists and this was quite an event in our area of work. But also besides the working place, we noticed that there is a higher media coverage on environmental and climate topics. I have to say that I had mixed feelings in this past week. On the one hand, I was very happy because there seems to be quite some public interest in what we are doing. Moreover, I even had the feeling that this message, which science has been trying to convey for decades, finally reaches policy makers and society. On the other hand, I experienced quite a few frustrating moments. Because, if you dig further into this topic, you discover, that nothing has changed. Despite all the reports and warnings, nothing, or almost nothing has been done about climate change. And even if I'm happy that the media delivered some very good coverage about the topic, I know that there are many people out there who refuse to believe climate change and even accuse us scientists of lying. This makes me sad and angry. Professor Harald Lesch, a physics professor who is well known in Germany from TV , once put it like this:
"Climate change scepticism is an assault to the whole scientific community."
Lesch encourages us scientists to be more offensive and better communicate our findings.
This was one of the reasons which led to this series about climate change. Another reason is the sincere fear of what will come if we keep going like this. Because being afraid of what will happen if we don't manage to mitigate global warming is well justified. The new IPCC report confirmed that.
What is the IPCC and what was this week's report about?
IPCC stands for "Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change". This 'world climate counsel' was founded back in 1988. Its purpose is to gather the scientific findings about climate change and communicate them to policy makers. The "Intergovernmental" part is very important: The panel does not work for one specific government, but "between" the governments. The IPCC is made up of experts from all over the world, who work on the reports voluntarily.
The report which was published last Monday is something special: It is a special report which focusses on the so-called 1.5 °C goal. This goal states that climate will warm by 1.5 °C until the end of the century (i.e. until the year 2100). The comparison basis are the "pre-industrial" conditions, i.e. those times when humans did not emit lots of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. For comparison: Now (2018), climate has already warmed by 1.0 °C compared to the pre-industrial times. In order to achieve this goal, Earth's temperature can only warm by another half degree. But why is this number, 1.5 °C, so important? If climate warms by 1.5 or 2 degrees does not really matter, one should mean? Well, it does! And this is exactly one of the main messages of the new report:
The IPCC also publishes videos in which they summarize their findings and main messages. This video is about the fifth assessment report, which was published in 2013.
"Every bit of warming matters"
Even between 1.5°C and 2°C global warming is a big difference for the effects on climate! Especially extreme weather events such as heat waves, strong rain, etc., the sea level rise, and losses in agriculture would not be as strong. What does this mean specifically? That considerably less people would lose their livelihoods, or even teir home. Another example: In the scenario, in which Earth warms by 2 °C, all coral reefs would be lost. In the prognosis in which climate warms by only 1.5 °C, at least some of them would survive. The message of the report could not be more clear: It is very important that we act NOW. We have to stop blowing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
I know that this is all kind of sciency and "far away" from our everyday life. This is why I thought of a couple of tasks, or suggestions, which might help to make all of this a little more "real":
- Ask your parents and grandparents how much snow there was during wintertime in their childhood usually.
- Ask them if, in the region where they live, there has always been grown vine and if so, ask for the variety.
- Try to find the type of vine in this graph.
- Did climate change in your region in the last decades?