Climate change is easy to put on the back burner. After all, we have 30, 40 or even 50-plus years to make the changes we need to protect the environment, right?
Nope. Try 12.
That's the conclusion of a newest climate change report report released by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report, released earlier this week, which reviewed data from over 6,000 sources to draw conclusions, found that we have just until 2030 to tip the scales and limit a climate disaster.
Where Did the 12-Year Deadline Come From?
The UN's 12 year figure represents the time we have left to limit climate change to just 1.5 degrees Celsius – the warming goal laid out in the Paris agreement.
While the Paris Agreement lays out a 1.5 C limit as a goal, its timeline and emissions goals are less less ambitious. The Agreement includes the goal to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030. But we'd have to cut it by 45 percent to limit global warming to 1.5 C, The Guardian reports. And we'd have to keep going, reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
To do that we'd need to cut emissions much faster than we have been so far – and actually have negative emissions past 2050.
Okay, So What Difference Does Missing the 1.5-Degree Target Make?
The difference between 1.5 to 2 or 3 degrees may seem small, but it can have catastrophic effects. That's because climate change negatively affects organisms at the bottom of the food chain: plants, and the insects that pollinate them, The Guardian explains.
Bees and other pollinator species will start to lose more and more habitat due to climate change. And while the 1.5 C will cause some habitat loss, warming the planet 2 degrees means pollinators are twice as likely to lose half their habitat. Of course, that also affects food crops – as well as any organisms higher up the food chain that feed on insects and pollinators.
That 0.5 C difference also means the sea levels will rise by an added 10 cm – from 40 cm at 1.5 C to 50 cm to 2 C . And it means 98 percent of the world's coral reefs will be at risk of bleaching, a condition where the algae that have a symbiotic relationship with the coral start dying, putting the whole reef at risk.
And, of course, if global warming goes over 2 C, the effects will be even worse – and could trigger mass extinctions.
Yikes, Right? So What Can You Do?
We won't lie, following climate change news can feel bleak. But that doesn't mean you're powerless – and you can organize for change. The world's biggest polluters are a surprisingly small bunch: A study released last year found that just 100 companies are responsible for more than 70 percent of the world's carbon emissions, The Guardian reports.
So in addition to writing to your representatives in government, speak up as a consumer. Let your favorite companies know that addressing climate change is important to you – and you expect it to be important to them, too. Every voice counts, and making yours heard is the best way to protect the planet from climate change.
- The Guardian: We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN
- Vox: What happens if the world heats up more drastically — say, 4°C?
- Vox: This graphic explains why 2 degrees of global warming will be way worse than 1.5
- The Guardian: Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says
About the Author
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Before launching her writing business, she worked as a TA and tutored students in biology, chemistry, math and physics.