At the Edge of the Abyss: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report (IPCC) 2022

Forecasts of irreversible consequences. The world as we know it dramatically altered. And what actions is humankind taking? The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report gives us urgent warnings to reverse climate change and few glimpses of hope.

On February 28, 2022 the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Working Group II report was published. This has been the result of more than 34,000 scientific studies on the subject around the world, and its most recent innovation has been to highlight the interconnectivity between climate change, biodiversity crisis and social inequalities. The most frequently mentioned parameter as the “point of no return” is to avoid at all costs an increase of 1.5 oC in the global average temperature, which would bring irreparable consequences according to science1.

In this report, there is a special emphasis on mitigation to address climate change and improve people’s quality of life. It is well-known that healthy ecosystems cope better with the devastation caused by extreme phenomena. For this reason, it is necessary to restore the degraded ecosystems in such a way that “30 to 50 per cent of the land surface, freshwater sources and marine habitats are preserved2”. And human beings would be the first ones to profit from these actions. With free services provided by nature such as fresh water, food, and carbon capture, the resilience of ecosystems is in our best interest. Hence the firm call to action and to put aside “half measures” to overcome this crisis3.

As evidence of the fatal fate that lies just ahead of us, let us consider the loss of resilience in the Amazon rainforest. This is a phenomenon that has been 20 years in the making and its main cause is a decrease in rainfall, which is also more noticeable in areas close to human settlements. Without resilience, the Amazonian forests have difficulty “recovering from disturbances such as droughts, logging and fires4“. The Amazon is at a crossroads: where rich and lush ecosystems now exist, possibly decades from now, only grassy savannahs would remain. The damage to humankind would be invaluable with the extinction of unique fauna and flora, loss of 90 billion tons of carbon dioxide captured in its trees and soil, and serious alterations to the planet’s climate patterns5.

Another indicator of the dramatic climate situation is the state of melting glaciers in the world. In places like Ecuador and Colombia, where glaciers do not occupy a large area, their loss would bring about obvious changes in the ecosystems of the wastelands (paramos), as well as problems of water regulation and supply for the future. Currently, two snow-covered mountains are in an irreversible situation: first, there is the Carihuayrazo mountain, which has lost 95% of its glacier and is expected to disappear entirely in the next three to four years, and second, Iliniza Sur, which follows closely. However, the phenomenon affects all of the Ecuadorian Andes, which have lost in a period of 40 years between 40 to 50 per cent of their glacier coverage, which used to expand to 92 km2, and now only to 43.5 km2 6. An example of this reality is the Cotopaxi volcano. The renowned mountain among climbers and tourists has seen a reduction in its glaciers from 20.5 km2 in 1977 to 10.5 km2 in 20167. The causes are those already warned in the IPCC report: increase in greenhouse gases (GHG), deforestation and agricultural exploitation.

The oceans have already reached the “point of no return”. A study revealed that temperatures previously considered “unusual” are now the norm. The data covers a time span of 150 years and indicates that currently 57 per cent of the sea surface exceeds the most extreme temperatures reported between 1870 and 1919. The current scenario destroys life in the seas: corals and kelp forests die, birds starve, and fish and other creatures must travel long distances to find cooler waters. These events are not a possibility in the future, they are already happening8.

This decade is crucial. We are dangerously approaching a 1.5 oC rise in global average temperature, and with it, disruptions to the natural world everywhere. Places like the Amazon rainforest, the Andes mountains, and our oceans are already undergoing aggressive changes that are disrupting life as we know it. Our generation cannot pretend not to know the consequences of inaction, and yet we still have a small but valuable window of opportunity to reverse decades of resource overexploitation, mindless pollution, and unplanned urban growth.

1 IPCC. 2022. Climate change: a threat to human wellbeing and health of the planet. Taking action now can secure our future.,greenhouse%20gas%20emissions%20and%20removals.&text=The%20Working%20Group%20III%20contribution,scheduled%20for%20early%20April%202022. Access on 03/27/2022
2 Id.
3 Id.
4 CNN. 2022. Amazon near tipping point of shifting from rainforest to savannah, study suggests. Access on 03/30/2022
5 Id.
6 UNDP. 2019. Ecuador está perdiendo sus nevados.,en%20los%20pr%C3%B3ximos%205%20a%C3%B1os. Access on 04/02/2022
7 ECUAVISA. 2022. Volcán Cotopaxi, el gigante que va perdiendo sus glaciares. . Access on 04/07/2022
8 Science News for Students. 2022. World’s oceans have warmed to a ‘point of no return’. Access on 03/25/2022