Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Researchers look out from the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as the sun sets over sea ice floating on the Victoria Strait along the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago on July 21, 2017. Studies show the Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Scientists are concerned because impacts of a warming Arctic may be felt elsewhere.
David Goldman/AP
Environment

UN Climate Report Reveals 'Worst Case' Sea Level Scenario Is Even Worse Than We Thought

Why Global Citizens Should Care 
Climate change is causing sea levels to rise and that threatens the existance of coastal cities and communities, and island nations. Reports like this help us to understand what could happen to the sea level according to different scenarios, hopefully giving world leaders the impetus to take action so we can prepare. The UN's Global Goal 13 calls for climate action. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.

Climate change is having a devastating effect on our seas and on the frozen ice caps of the world, a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns.  

The more than 100 scientists who contributed to Wednesday's report made projections of rising sea levels, and assessed different scenarios based on different levels of warming.   

Worryingly, there may reportedly be some impacts that we're no longer in a position to stop — such as the amount of sea level rise. 

The report — which makes grim reading — concluded that that the global ocean has now warmed without pause since 1970, the BBC reported.

Our waters have soaked up more than 90% of the extra heat generated by humans over the past decades, and the rate at which it has taken up this heat has doubled since 1993.   

Worryingly, this means that sea levels will continue to rise and may affect millions of people in coastal and low-lying areas by 2100. 

"The open sea, the Arctic, the Antarctic, and the high mountains may seem far away to many people," said Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, in a statement. "But we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways — for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, for health and wellbeing, for culture and identity." 

"If we reduce emissions sharply, consequences for people and their livelihoods will still be challenging, but potentially more manageable for those who are most vulnerable,' Lee added. "We increase our ability to build resilience and there will be more benefits for sustainable development." 

Some 670 million people in high mountain regions and 680 million people in low-lying coastal zones depend directly on the oceans and the cryosphere — the frozen parts of the planet. Meanwhile, according to the IPCC, 4 million people live permanently in the Arctic region, and small island developing states are home to 65 million people. 

"Global warming has already reached 1C above the pre-industrial level, due to past and current greenhouse gas emissions," says the IPCC in a statement. "There is overwhelming evidence that this is resulting in profound consequences for ecosystems and people." 

The IPCC's statement said that the ocean is warmer, more acidic, and less productive. Meanwhile, glaciers and ice sheets are causing the sea level to rise, while coastal extreme events are becoming more severe. 

The IPCC says that global average sea levels could increase up to 1.1 metres by 2100, in the worst scenario — a rise of 10cm on previous IPCC projections because of the larger than originally expected loss of ice in Antarctica. 

"The blue planet is in serious danger right now, suffering many insults from many different directions and it's our fault," Dr. Jean-Pierre Gattuso, a co-ordinating lead author of the report, told the BBC. 

Related Stories Aug. 27, 2019 Indonesia Is Moving Its Capital to Avoid Sinking Into the Ocean

"What surprised me the most is the fact that the highest projected sea level rise has been revised upwards and it is now 1.1 metres," he added. "This will have widespread consequences for low lying coasts where almost 700 million people live and it is worrying."

This is the third report in the past 12 months produced by the IPCC, each providing projections of what the world might look like by 2100. Last year, the panel reported on what the world might look like at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  

In August, another report studied the impact of climate change on life on land. That report concluded that food production was just as important as changing our energy habits — namely, that humans need to eat less meat. 

But, according to Ko Barrett, vice chair of the IPCC, this report "is unique because for the first time ever, the IPCC has produced an in-depth report examining the further corners of the Earth — from the highest mountains in remote polar regions to the deepest oceans." 

"We've found that even, and especially, in these places, human-caused climate change is evident," Barrett added.  

According to the IPCC, one of the most important things about the report is that it highlights the urgency of making timely, ambitious, and coordinated action to address unprecedented and enduring changes in the ocean and cryosphere. 

Related Stories June 22, 2017 Sea Levels Are Rising — But the Dutch Have a Solution

While it shows the benefits of ambitious and effective steps now, it also reveals how costs and risks escalate the more that action is delayed.

The report should serve as a clear warning to leaders that the seas are not to be messed with — and crucially, details the ways in which taking steps to reduce emissions can go some way to off-setting the worst impacts. 

Because ice stores carbon, when it melts it can accelerate warming even further.

Greenland saw a doubling of ice loss between 2007 and 2016, compared with the 10 years previously. In the worst case carbon emissions scenario, the report predicted that glaciers in areas such as the tropical Andes, Central Europe, and North Asia could lose 80% of their ice by 2100. 

This latest report follows the UN’s climate change summit on Sept. 23, where Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg made clear to world leaders that they can not ignore these facts any longer. Let’s hope these forecasts are taken seriously.

You can read the report in full here