The United Nations’ latest report on climate change doesn’t mince words when it says that a complete overhaul of the global status quo is needed if the worst consequences of climate change are to be avoided.
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, “ the report’s authors, who form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said in a press release.
The report, which came out on Sunday, involves the input of more than 90 leading climate scientists. It paints a nightmarish picture of the planet’s evolution in the coming decades, according to the New Yorker. Vox notes that significant action has to be taken within the next 12 years for enough momentum to be created to stave off catastrophe.
If global temperatures rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which is expected to happen by 2040, then hundreds of millions of people will be displaced, many island countries will vanish under rising sea levels, critical crop yields will plummet, forest fires will ravage wider and wider areas of land, and deadly diseases such as malaria and dengue will spread to new regions.
The 1.5 degrees Celsius mark is one of the goals of the Paris climate agreement and, based on current projections, it’s unlikely. In fact, the Paris climate agreement’s other goal — of keeping temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius — is also very unlikely. The IPCC report predicts that temperatures will rise by more than 3 degrees Celsius by 2100.
To make matters worse, the environmental consequences that were expected following a 2 degrees Celsius rise are now expected to occur after an increase of 1.5 degrees.
"One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes," said Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I, which assessed the scientific aspects of climate change, in the press release.
"Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems," said Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of IPCC Working Group II, which looked at the socioeconomic and natural consequences of climate change, added.
These dire warnings are happening against a backdrop of countries reneging on environmental commitments and doubling down on fossil fuel use.
The United States has dismantled scores of climate change regulations and rules, China is vastly increasing its coal fleet, Brazil’s front-running presidential candidate announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement if elected, and Australia recently announced plans to expand its use of coal.
But not all is lost — many countries are taking action to transition to sustainable economies.
“The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate," said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, co-chair of Working Group I.
And individuals around the world are often leading this charge by taking action in their everyday lives. Here are five things you can do in response to the IPCC report.
1. Demand action from politicians
The most impactful thing you can do is engage with politicians and demand that they address climate change. Lawmakers have the power to enact carbon taxes, cap-and-trade schemes, stronger regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, and efficiency standards. They can also fund subsidies for and investments in renewable energy, research into cutting-edge carbon-removal technology, and much more.
First, research and support political candidates that have strong climate change platforms. Next, vote. For more information on how, when, and where you can vote, go here.
Finally, contact current and future politicians to hold them accountable to their commitments. The most effective way to do this is to call their offices, but you can also post on social media, send letters, and join protests.
2. Learn more about the divestment movement
Divestment campaigns put pressure on publicly traded companies, pension funds, universities, and more to pull investments they may have in fossil fuel companies. Already, thousands of divestment pledges have been made, totalling trillions of dollars around the world.
Each new pledge creates more momentum and further undermines the legitimacy of fossil fuel companies, according to the environmental group 350.org. By pulling funds from fossil fuels, institutions signal to the world that the costs of climate change outweigh financial gains from their continued extraction and use.
3. Demand companies reduce their ecological footprints
The clothing brand Patagonia invests in conservation efforts
In addition to joining divestment efforts, you can insist that the companies you buy from prioritize sustainability. Many companies are receptive to consumer pressure and you can, for example, ask companies to offset their carbon footprints, use only renewable energy for their operations, reduce their plastic packaging, and reduce their ecological impact overall.
4. Make your home more efficient
Homes and apartments require a lot of energy for heating, cooling, electricity, and much more.
You can make your home more efficient by installing heating pumps for water and air circulation, improving insulation, and replacing fluorescent light bulbs with LED bulbs.
You can also install solar panels or join community solar groups to reduce fossil fuel use.
These changes involve up-front costs but they lead to significant cost-savings over the year and significantly reduce your home’s environmental impact.
5. Lifestyle changes
While mitigating climate change ultimately depends on government action, there are things you can do in your everyday life to minimize your ecological footprint.
You can consider flying less, for one, because flying is probably the single biggest source of emissions in your life. Using mass transit and biking are two other transportation changes that benefit the planet.
You can also consider cutting down on the amount of meat you eat by finding replacements a few days per week. This doesn’t mean going vegan — although that’s also recommended — it just means not eating meat all the time because meat production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental destruction.
Staying on the subject of food, you can be more mindful of food waste. Most Americans throw away about 40% of the food they buy and all of this food releases greenhouse gas emissions in landfills. Reducing food waste is as simple as eating leftovers, making more “kitchen sink” meals that incorporate various vegetables and grains, and making more conscientious shopping lists.
For food that’s past its prime, try composting. And when it comes to all the plastic, metal, paper, and glass in your life, become a more effective recycler.
You can shop more sustainably by skipping packaging, using tote bags, and buying from brands that prioritize sustainability.
Finally, become more involved in environmental groups to learn how you can help in your local communities.
Climate change is a problem with a clear solution — reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The more people embrace this idea, the better the planet will fare.