World leaders and activists have called for immediate climate action after a major UN report highlighted the often-irreversible damage that human-caused global warming has led to.
The study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said human activity was unequivocally to blame. It underlined that crucial temperature thresholds would be breached in the coming decades if emissions were not rapidly slashed.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government will host the UN climate conference Cop26 later this year, said the IPCC’s study made for "sobering reading".
"It is clear that the next decade is going to be pivotal to securing the future of our planet," he said, underlining the importance of shifting from coal to clean energy sources and providing climate finance for at-risk countries.
"As the IPCC makes plain, the impacts of the climate crisis, from extreme heat to wildfires to intense rainfall and flooding, will only continue to intensify unless we choose another course for ourselves and generations to come," said US climate envoy John Kerry.
"What the world requires now is real action. All major economies must commit to aggressive climate action during this critical decade."
The study by more than 200 experts warns of more extreme heatwaves, droughts, flooding, rising sea levels and melting ice caps.
But it also crucially underlines that deep, structural changes to drastically reduce toxic emissions could stabilise temperatures in the future.
Frans Timmermans, the EU's deputy climate chief, said the report showed "it's not too late to stem the tide and prevent runaway climate change".
Inger Andersen, the head of the UN’s environment agency, said G20 nations – among the wealthiest in the world but also the cause of about 80 per cent of all emissions – had a "special responsibility" to reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases.
"We can’t undo the mistakes of the past, but this generation of political and business leaders, this generation of conscious citizens, can make things right.
"This generation can make the systemic changes that will stop the planet warming, help everyone adapt to the new conditions and create a world of peace, prosperity and equity," she said.
Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives and ambassador of 48 states at particular risk of climate change, highlighted what he called the injustice of global warming.
"Our people are dying in vulnerable developing countries because of the fossil-fuel burning for consumption and economic growth in rich countries," he said.
“The report reinforces the existential nature of the climate crisis, and it radiates a deep sense of urgency for immediate and decisive action,” Jane Lubchenco, the deputy director for climate and environment at the White House’s office of science and technology policy, told reporters at a briefing on Monday.
“Thanks to the report, we now know that the pathway for taking the 1.5°C target in reach is narrowing, which is why action this decade is so critical. We now know that every action counts, every year matters, every fraction of a degree will help.”
After reentering the United States into the Paris climate accord, President Joe Biden set a goal of reducing US carbon emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2030 in an effort to get other countries to set similarly ambitious targets ahead of Cop26.
Jonathan Pershing, the US deputy envoy for climate change, laid out a series of actions that the Biden administration has already started to take to achieve that goal, including an executive order to strengthen fuel efficiency standards that the president signed last week.
“We have invested substantially in actions on new greenhouse gas regulations,” said Mr Pershing. “We are looking aggressively at programmes in the agricultural sector that can manage soil carbon and that can look at questions around forest and land management.”
“We are considering a whole raft of technology solutions that will be required to get to net zero in energy and industry. We are looking now at a budget programme that is going currently in Congress and will try to support activities that will lead to a green infrastructure.”
He also noted that the United States is working with the World Bank, multilateral development banks and development assistance agencies to “increase their capacity to help countries adapt to the consequences of climate change.”
Activists urged governments to take action, with Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven saying that scientists "can produce reports" but they "can’t save the world".
“You know, it's a bit like an alarm clock," he said. "You can keep switching the alarm clock off but eventually if you don't get out of bed and get going to wherever you're meant to be going to, it will be too late. You won't get there in time. And I think that this is what this report really is saying: 'Listen, the alarm clock has gone off many times'".
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said the IPCC study contained "no real surprises."
"It confirms what we already know from thousands previous studies and reports - that we are in an emergency."
Nafkote Dabi, Climate Policy Lead at Oxfam, said: “Amid a world in parts burning, in parts drowning and in parts starving, the IPCC today tables the most compelling wake-up call yet for global industry to switch from oil, gas and coal to renewables.
“Governments must use law to compel this urgent change. Citizens must use their own political power and behaviours to push big polluting corporations and governments in the right direction. There is no Plan B.”