What You Need to Know from the World’s Most Authoritative Scientific Body on Climate Change


The sun peeks over the horizon as a pump-jack works in an oilfield. (Photo credit: Zbynek Burival / Unsplash)

The IPCC, the world’s most authoritative scientific body on climate change, has released its synthesis of its sixth assessment report, which sums up the state of climate science. Here are 10 findings you need to know.

1. Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests, have unequivocally led to recent warming

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are higher today than at any time in at least 2 million years. Since just 2010, human-induced emissions increased by 12% and since 1990 a whopping 54%.

2. Earth has already warmed 2°F (1.1°C) since the industrial revolution

The largest increase in warming has been over land, with 2.9°F (1.6°C) of warming since the industrial revolution. And since 1970, warming has occurred faster than in any other such period over at least the past two millennia.

3. Warming has already resulted in substantial damages and irreversible losses, which are unequally distributed

Climate change is already impacting every region across the world, resulting in climate extremes, at times concurrently, and rapid changes to our atmosphere, ocean, glaciers and ice sheets. Warming has contributed to severe water scarcity for roughly half of the world’s population. The growth of agricultural productivity has slowed over the past 50 years because of climate change. Some climate impacts are irreversible, leading to loss and damage to nature and people.

4. While adaptation efforts have progressed, they’re insufficient

Today, around 3.3-3.6 billion people live in places that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Communities around the world have been planning and implementing a variety of adaptation efforts to contend with mounting efforts. While there has been progress, gaps in implementation and finance exist, and limits to adaptation have been reached in some ecosystems and regions.

A crowd of people gather with jugs in hand at a water tank in New Dehli, India. (Photo credit: Abhisheklegit / Shutterstock)

5. Current emissions reduction policies put us on track for warming of around 5.8°F (3.2°C) by the end of the century, leading to an unrecognizable world.

Best scientific estimates suggest we’ll reach 2.7°F (1.5°C) of warming, a temperature limit of the Paris Agreement, in the early 2030s.

6. Every fraction of a degree matters

The faster we act, the higher the chances are that we lower the chances of compounding and cascading risks that are increasingly difficult to manage. With higher warming levels, the probability of lower-likelihood events with very large negative impacts increases. If warming is sustained at 3.6-5.4°F (2-3°C), which we’re on track for with current policies, the IPCC notes that the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will be lost almost completely in the long term, resulting in meters worth of sea level rise.

7. Emissions need to be slashed this decade and reach net zero emissions by mid-century

If we are to limit warming to 1.5°C and avoid some of the most catastrophic climate impacts, global greenhouse gas emissions not only must peak and decline steeply but reach net zero by mid-century and reach net negative emissions thereafter. In 1.5°C aligned pathways, emissions decline on average by 43% below 2019 levels by 2030, by 60% by 2035 and by 69% by 2040. In contrast, emissions have continued to climb.

Oil rigs off the coast of Galveston, Texas.
Oil rigs off the coast of Galveston, Texas. (Photo credit: Carol M. Highsmith / LOC)

8. Delayed action locks in stranded assets

Existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure blows our remaining carbon budget. The IPCC noted last year that limiting warming to below 2°C will leave $1-4 trillion of stranded assets, with coal being at greatest risk through 2030 and oil and gas towards mid-century.  That means that if we continue to install fossil fuel-based infrastructure we will be locked into a high emissions trajectory.

9. Addressing climate change brings tremendous development benefits

The IPCC finds that the very actions that cut emissions also bring significant benefits to health, for example through lowered air pollution, greater mobility and healthy diets. Increased financing for clean energy can help provide energy access for underserved populations. Technology transfer can facilitate leapfrogging of dirty technologies.

However, to facilitate development and accelerated climate action, investments will need to increase three to six times this decade and access to finance must be improved. Investments must also be redirected. Today, the amount of private and public finance flows that is dedicated to fossil fuels is higher than those dedicated to mitigation and adaptation. Removing fossil fuel subsidies can increase public revenues which could be used to achieve societal goals.

10. Systems change is required across all sectors. Solutions are already available.

The required emissions cuts and adaptation measures are unprecedented in scale. Systems change will be required across the energy system, industry, cities and how we manage our land, oceans and water and grow our food. The good news is that a range of solutions already exists. At the Bezos Earth Fund, we work with the Systems Change Lab to help us identify tipping points and priority actions to remove barriers and accelerate change.

The IPCC shows clearly that climate change has transitioned from a distant threat to a problem already wreaking havoc around the world today, with just 2°F (1.1°C) or warming. Action today will dictate the risks that we will be forced to accept in the future. There has never been a more urgent time for decisive action. The good news is that bright spots of action are showing us how to leverage policy, leadership, innovation, and big ideas to affect change. The Bezos Earth Fund is deeply committed to help catalyze such change in this decisive decade.

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