Will the new climate change report change minds?

The new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lays out the basis for “the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, bringing together the latest advances in climate science, and combining multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations.”

The warnings are getting more and more dire, though the situation is not yet hopeless.

Earth is getting so hot that temperatures in about a decade will probably blow past a level of warming that world leaders have sought to prevent, according to a report released Monday that the United Nations called a “code red for humanity.”

“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” said report co-author Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

But scientists also eased back a bit on the likelihood of the absolute worst climate catastrophes.

The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which calls climate change clearly human-caused and “unequivocal” and “an established fact,” makes more precise and warmer forecasts for the 21st century than it did last time it was issued in 2013.

The 3,000-plus-page report from 234 scientists said warming is already accelerating sea level rise and worsening extremes such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms. Tropical cyclones are getting stronger and wetter, while Arctic sea ice is dwindling in the summer and permafrost is thawing. All of these trends will get worse, the report said.

The report says that while some of the changes that have already occurred are irreversible, there are glimmers of hope that the worst case scenarios might be averted if action is taken now.

The report described five different future scenarios based on how much the world reduces carbon emissions. They are: a future with incredibly large and quick pollution cuts; another with intense pollution cuts but not quite as massive; a scenario with moderate emission cuts; a fourth scenario where current plans to make small pollution reductions continue; and a fifth possible future involving continued increases in carbon pollution.

In five previous reports, the world was on that final hottest path, often nicknamed “business as usual.” But this time, the world is somewhere between the moderate path and the small pollution reductions scenario because of progress to curb climate change, said report co-author Claudia Tebaldi, a scientist at the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Lab.

While calling the report “a code red for humanity,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres kept a sliver of hope that world leaders could still somehow prevent 1.5 degrees of warming, which he said is “perilously close.”

Alok Sharma, the president of the upcoming climate negotiations in Scotland, urged leaders to do more so they can “credibly say that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive.”

Two things should be noted about this report. One is that the climate models are getting better and even more unequivocal about the human causes of the impending catastrophe.

The comprehensive assessment of climate science published on Monday, the sixth such report from the IPCC since 1988, has been eight years in the making, marshalling the work of hundreds of experts and peer-review studies. It represents the world’s full knowledge to date of the physical basis of climate change, and found that human activity was “unequivocally” the cause of rapid changes to the climate, including sea level rises, melting polar ice and glaciers, heatwaves, floods and droughts.

The other is the growth of attribution science that better enables us to draw a causal line blaming individual extreme weather events on climate change. (I had written just a week or so ago about how the relationship was statistical, preventing us from drawing such conclusions. The new report has changed things.)

The report highlights the stunning progress of a new field, attribution science, in quantifying the extent to which human-induced global heating increases the intensity and/or likelihood of a specific extreme weather event such as a heatwave, a hurricane or a wildfire.

Within weeks, for example, scientists established that the record-shattering heatwave that devastated British Columbia in June would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of climate change.

The UN Secretary General did not mince words about the seriousness of the issue and the need for global action.

António Guterres, the UN secretary general, warned: “[This report] is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”

He called for an end to new coal plants and to new fossil fuel exploration and development, and for governments, investors and businesses to pour all their efforts into a low-carbon future. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet,” he said.

So will this report change the minds of skeptics? Unlike in the case of covid-19 vaccine skeptics whose minds may be changed by the sickness and deaths of those close to them, the serious consequences of climate change will be slower and more diffuse and thus enable some to refuse to acknowledge it. We can only hope that governments will take decisive action when representatives from 197 countries meet in November in Glasgow for UN climate talks called Cop26.


  1. Matt G says

    Well, that’s their opinion. Let’s hear what the stable geniuses have to say about it….

  2. says

    Meanwhile, political leaders around the world are saying they plan to expand fossil fuel use until 2050. That’s … not the right response but that’s what they are going to do: drill baby, drill while paying lip-service to the problem.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Will the new climate change report change minds?

    Well, if nothing else the timing of the release was great. Fires, floods, droughts…..

    It won’t affect some of the real idiots but it likely will galvanize a lot of people.

  4. mnb0 says

    “Will the new climate change report change minds?”
    No. But this will.


    In The Netherlands this happened a few weeks ago after two years of drought (and hence water shortage for agriculture).
    On average Homo Sapiens is bad at long term thinking, so

    “though the situation is not yet hopeless.”
    when we include the human factor I suspect it is. So the correct answer imo is: they will change when it is too late indeed. And that’s the big difference with the corona pandemy.

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    Well, if nothing else the timing of the release was great. Fires, floods, droughts…..
    No. But this will.

    This is pretty much my view. The report of itself would be easy to ignore. The increasing frequency and extremity of extreme weather is not.

  6. nomenexrecto says

    Pretty sure that Molotov cocktails are not CO2 neutral.

    If used effectively, they are. The more people they kill, the less CO2 these corpses will produce from there on.

  7. mailliw says

    As some of you might have heard, the Ahr valley in western Germany suffered severe flooding three weeks ago with more than 300 people dead.

    It was the lead item on the news for several days, but the coverage died down quite rapidly. The cost of rebuilding the infrastructure and housing is expected to run into double figure billions of Euros.

    Likewise the IPCC report was all over the news when it came out earlier this week, but I get the impression most people have already forgotten about it.

    When cycling home this evening I went past a lot of posters for the upcoming German election in September. Not a single one of them mentioned global warming as an issue -- not even the Greens.

  8. John Morales says

    Here in Oz, there was this news story:

    Prime Minister Scott Morrison has again refused to commit to a target of net zero emissions by 2050, after an international “code red” warning on climate change was issued by global leaders.

    TLDR: our government (and its prime minister, Scott “lump of coal” Morrison) don’t want to commit to targets. Same government that fights tooth and nail for more coal, more gas, mainly because it’s a coalition with one party (Nationals) whose members generally disbelieve climate change.

    Ah well.

  9. John Morales says

    [oops. TLDR is mine, not a quotation — forgot to close a tag]

    [I corrected it-Mano]

  10. says

    build an explosive device using methane from cow farts.

    The whole idea was to give them a chance to appreciate fossil fuels.

    If I were making a “green molotov cocktail” it would probably be a glass dewar flask full of liquid oxygen and alcohol with a sparkler taped to it.

    Fuck, just the idea of making a bad idea like that is making me burst out in cold sweat.

  11. John Morales says

    The whole idea was to give them a chance to appreciate fossil fuels.

    My grandfather died in his early 60s, due to congestive lung failure.

    During the Spanish civil war, he was a Guardia Civil, and to provide for his family he supplemented his income by siphoning fuel from military vehicles and selling it on the black market. Didn’t know any better, he used the old fashioned method of sticking the hose into the tank and sucking until the fuel came out.

    So, he appreciated them.

    Me, I was a child in Madrid in the mid 1960s. Cars everywhere in the streets, we learnt how to play “frogger” for real, basically. Not the best air quality. Leaded fuel.

    When I went back in, um, 1983, the air quality was definitely better.
    But I still found my snot black when I blew my nose, after a few days.

  12. jrkrideau says

    @12 mailliw

    As some of you might have heard, the Ahr valley in western Germany suffered severe flooding three weeks ago with more than 300 people dead.

    It was the lead item on the news for several days, but the coverage died down quite rapidly.

    Well, I do not recommend it but you could try the Canadian approach. Long burning forest fires in British Columbia (~260 at the moment). Ontario scores are harder to read but probably ~ 100. One fire (Kenora 51 covers 200,511 hectares). Quebec in one intensive zone reports 537 fires though some may be out.

    Nothing like hourly reports of houses burned, masses of refugees, and a brisk smell of wood-smoke to concentrate the attention. Particularly if you are under evacuation warning.

  13. mailliw says

    @18 jkrideau

    you could try the Canadian approach

    Italy and Greece are in flames -- with fires having reached the suburbs of Athens.

  14. steve oberski says

    Then tail off their usage in favor of nuclear — by 2050.

    As Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message.

  15. says

    The premier of Alberta made some noise about needing to work towards technology that will fix all of this (basically hoping for a magic pill) but whatever actions are taken must not affect the energy industry.

    So absolutely not.

  16. Canadian Steve says

    In the US the conservative media machine is in overdrive downplaying this report and regurgitating climate denialist Koonin’s book all over the place, but especially on Fox … where millions of Americans use as their main source of information.
    Yup, the world is screwed.

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