'Atlas of human suffering': Stark warning to humanity issued in major climate change report

28 February 2022, 15:08

The report warns some of the impacts of climate change are already irreversible
The report warns some of the impacts of climate change are already irreversible. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The Secretary-General for the UN has warned of "an atlas of human suffering" after a new climate change report said humanity may miss a "brief and rapidly closing window" to secure a liveable and sustainable future.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said climate change was already causing widespread loss and damage to lives, livelihoods, homes and natural habitats - and that some of the impacts were already irreversible.

It also warned more severe effects were still to come as nature and humans are pushed to the limits of their ability to adapt to rising temperatures.

The "dire warning" highlighted the grave and mounting threat global warming poses to physical and mental health, cities and coastal communities, food and water supplies, and wildlife across the world - and said any further delays to curb emissions and adapt mean humanity will miss a "brief and rapidly closing window" to secure a liveable future.

Mass civil disobedience the only way to force action on climate change

The assessment is the second in a series of three reports from the IPCC in the latest review of climate science, which take place every seven years or so for governments.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the report as "an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership", warning that nearly half of humanity is in the climate danger zone and many ecosystems are at the point of no return.

Read more: Tube strike: Last-ditch talks ahead of Tuesday's walkout by 10,000 TfL staff

Read more: Storm Eunice: 'Very lucky' no one hurt as huge 400-year-old oak destroys part of home

Hans-Otto Portner, co-chairman of the team that produced the report, said: "The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet.

"Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future."

IPCC chairman Hoesung Lee said: "This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction.

"It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet."

He added: "It emphasises the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks.

"Half measures are no longer an option."

Activist hopes Storm Eunice will push government to act on climate

The report looks at the existing and future effects of climate change, efforts and limits to adapt to rising temperatures and vulnerable communities and natural systems.

It finds that climate change caused by humans has led to increasing heat and heatwaves, rising sea levels, floods, wildfires, heatwaves and drought, causing death, food and water scarcity, and migration.

Health impacts have been felt worldwide: people have died and suffered illness from extreme heat, diseases have emerged in new areas, there has been an increase in cholera, and worsening mental health, with trauma inflicted by floods, storms and loss of livelihoods.

Global warming has caused substantial damage and increasingly irreversible losses to natural systems, such as mass die-offs of corals and trees, and the first climate-driven species extinctions.

Read more: 'Show this to Putin': Horror of the child victims of the Ukraine war

Read more: Last seven years hottest on record 'by a clear margin', scientists say

Different weather extremes are happening at the same time, causing "cascading" effects that are increasingly hard to manage.

The report also warns of the closeness of irreversible "tipping points" where melting of ice sheets in Antarctica, thawing of permanently frozen areas of the Arctic, or the loss of Amazon rainforest become unstoppable.

Some 3.3 billion to 3.6 billion people live in situations where they are highly vulnerable to climate change, the report warns.

James O'Brien wonders why extreme weather isn't moving dial on climate conversations

The consequences of global warming, which has reached 1.1C above pre-industrial levels already, are not felt evenly around the world, with countries in sub-Saharan Africa and small island states among the most at risk.

But even in the UK and Europe people face coastal and inland flooding, heat extremes, damage to habitats, water scarcity and loss of crop production, as well as knock-on effects on food supplies and prices.

Read more: Dozens killed in mass shelling of Ukraine's second city as peace talks continue

Read more: SUV drivers 'offsetting' eco benefits of electric cars, activist claims

There will be "unavoidable increases" in climate hazards in the next two decades with global warming of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the bleak 35-page summary for policymakers says.

Letting temperatures climb above that, even temporarily, will lead to additional severe impacts, with the risks increasing more quickly at lower temperatures than previously thought.

Accelerating efforts to adapt to climate change - which are currently patchy and insufficient - is urgently needed.

But the report warns there are limits to how much people and nature can cope with, becoming more limited at 1.5C of warming, and impossible in some regions at 2C, making curbing emissions to limit temperature rises also crucial.

Climate activist calls on Andrew Castle to pay heed to warnings

The report was released after its summary was approved line by line in a process involving representatives of 195 governments and scientists, which overran by a day as delegates continued to haggle over the text.

Its publication comes just over 100 days after world leaders agreed new efforts to limit warming and to deliver finance for adaptation at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, calls for adequate funding to help those most at risk.

Read more: Oxfordshire council bans meat and dairy at official events opting for vegan meals only

Watch: UK must have 'open door' asylum policy for Ukrainians, Shelagh Fogarty declares

Safeguarding nature, including conserving 30-50 per cent of the world's land, freshwater and sea habitat, will reduce carbon and climate impacts, as well as protecting wildlife and the natural systems people rely on for food and water.

The report sets out what can be done to adapt to rising temperatures, from restoring wetlands and avoiding building in flood plains, to planting more trees in cities for cooling, and nature-friendly farming and more plant-based diets to reduce pressure on land.

But it warns against "maladaptation" - efforts to adapt such as hard sea walls which can cause more problems - and geoengineering schemes that could cause a host of new risks.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Lord Kim Darroch the former UK National Security Advisor for his assessment of the performance of "the current PM, the man who was PM and the man who wants to be PM"

Rishi Sunak has 'left the pitch free' for Lord Cameron to be Foreign Sec and 'toughen the line on Israel', says former diplomat

Iran's direct assault: Escalation in Israeli-Hamas conflict signals a broader regional shift

Iran's direct assault and escalation in Israeli-Hamas conflict signals a broader regional shift

Israel will aim to 'minimise civilian casualties'

Israel planning ‘painful’ strike on Iran despite Western calls for calm after unprecedented missile attack

Greater Manchester Police said it is aware of the footage

Shocking moment ‘child steals police car’ and reverses it along pavement while officer chases suspect on foot

Trump Hush Money

Trump to return to court after first day of trial ends with no jurors picked

Susan Hall plans to extend the Night Tube to the Hammersmith & City line

Susan Hall announces plans to expand Night Tube in bid to 'revive' London’s night economy

A girl was allegedly attacked in the early hours of Friday morning, police have said

Police release CCTV images of man after schoolgirl, 16, ‘raped in Liverpool city centre’

The attacker is 15, police say

Sydney church stabbing declared a terror attack ‘motivated by religious extremism’ - as teenage boy arrested

Indonesia Landslide

Bodies of final victims recovered after Indonesia landslides that killed 20

Australia Church Stabbings

Knife attack against bishop and priest being treated as terrorism, police say

The family moved from Bedfordshire to Portugal in 2016

Brit family hounded out of Portugal told their situation 'wasn't desperate enough' for help after returning to UK

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer

Trans athletes should be banned from competing against women, says Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer

Ben Wallace has said Iran must be 'hit back twice as hard'

Iran must be 'hit back twice as hard', says ex-defence secretary Ben Wallace as Rishi Sunak calls for 'restraint'

MPs overturned changes made to the Rwanda Bill

MPs reject Rwanda Bill amendments as showdown with House of Lords continues

Trump Hush Money

First day of Trump hush-money trial ends without any jurors being picked

Strong winds overturned a caravan in Staffordshire

'Tornado' rips through Staffordshire village damaging homes and overturning caravan