Climate change is dangerously close to spiraling out of control, a United Nations panel said in a landmark report in late August 2021, warning that the world is already certain to face weather-related disruptions for decades, if not centuries, to come.
The report has implications for homeland defenders in the United States and around the world and has been labeled an “existential threat” by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“Today, no nation can find lasting security without addressing the climate crisis,” Austin said during a speech at the Leaders Summit on Climate, a virtual gathering of 40 world leaders in April 2021. “We face all kinds of threats in our line of work, but few of them truly deserve to be called existential. The climate crisis does.”
Humans are “unequivocally” to blame for the crisis, the report from the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said. Rapid action to cut greenhouse gas emissions could limit some impacts, but others are now locked in.
The deadly heat waves, gargantuan hurricanes and other weather extremes that are already happening will only become more severe. Austin noted that the climate crisis is already affecting the U.S. military directly.
Hurricane Michael in October 2018 inflicted billions of dollars’ worth of damage on Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Severe flooding of the Missouri River in March 2019 damaged Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and wildfires in California have threatened military installations and forced repeated evacuations. (Pictured: A firefighter runs to his truck as a wildfire advances toward a home in Milford, California, in August 2021.)
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the report as a “code red for humanity.”
“The alarm bells are deafening,” he said in a statement. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
In November 2021, a U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, will try to wring much more ambitious climate action out of the nations of the world, and the money to go with it.
Drawing on more than 14,000 scientific studies, the IPCC report gives the most comprehensive and detailed picture yet of how climate change is altering the world. Unless immediate, rapid and large-scale action is taken to reduce emissions, the report says, the average global temperature is likely to reach or cross the 1.5-degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warming threshold within 20 years.
The pledges to cut emissions made so far are not enough to start reducing the level of greenhouse gases — mostly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels — accumulated in the atmosphere.
Governments and campaigners reacted to the findings with alarm.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped the report would be a “wake-up call for the world to take action now, before we meet in Glasgow.” U.S. President Joe Biden tweeted: “We can’t wait to tackle the climate crisis. The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. And the cost of inaction keeps mounting.”
The report says emissions “unequivocally caused by human activities” have already pushed the average global temperature up 1.1 degrees Celsius from its pre-industrial average and would have raised it a half degree more without the tempering effect of pollution in the atmosphere.
That means that even as societies move away from fossil fuels, temperatures will be pushed up again by the loss of the airborne pollutants that come with them and currently reflect away some of the sun’s heat.
IMAGE CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES