Climate change posing 'existential threat to human civilisation' and time is running out

ITV News Science Editor Deborah Cohen has the details of the report

The planet is already facing the "unequivocal" consequences of human-caused climate change, which is killing people, damaging food production, destroying nature and reducing economic growth, a major UN report on climate change says.

In one of its starkest assessments yet the report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - commissioned and its conclusions approved by the world’s governments - also concludes that some of the damage caused by climate change is already irreversible.

“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC says.

The report stresses the need to keep greenhouse gas emissions down to limit global warming to below 1.5C above the pre-industrial average. But it says the impact of current heating is already being felt.

Already some effects of global warming are irreversible, the IPPC report warns. Credit: PA

Heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding, as well as sea level rises are already affecting people’s physical and mental health and livelihoods, so too are their homes, food and water, energy and transport systems, the report says.

“If you wanted some good news for a change, look away now.

"This latest report from the IPCC provides an even more alarming synthesis of past, current and future climate risks than previous iterations. The loss and damage already being caused by climate change is writ large,” Prof Dave Reay, director of Edinburgh Climate Change Institute at the city's university says.

For example people are being displaced from their homes, particularly on small islands; floods and droughts have affected farming, particularly in Africa leading to malnutrition; changes in the oceans have had an impact on fishing in some parts of the world, the report says.

Throughout the world heatwaves have led to deaths and illness and there’s good evidence that climate change has increased the risk of illness from organisms in water and food, it adds.

PA Graphics

With around four in 10 people around the world vulnerable to climate change, countries will need to change how they live to adapt to the harm already done.

Dr Swenja Surminski, head of adaptation research at LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, says that climate change needs to be taken into account “when we decide where and how we build, how we design products and infrastructure, and how to develop resilient food systems and supply chains”.

Despite the “grim reading”, the IPCC report rightly offers some glimmers of hope for actions to avoid many adverse consequences, Prof Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at UCL, said.

For example, governments will need to plan for better coastal defences and early warning systems for flooding; there’ll be a need for better management of crops; forests will need to be restored; and there’ll be a need for more reliable ways of providing energy.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

But the report cautions that this is becoming more complex to manage, as several of the effects of climate change will happen together at the same time as other changes to our lives - such as changing diets and mass movement to cities.

It says time is running out.

“Slashing emissions and investing in making societies resilient to climate impacts could put the world on a sustainable footing. But where are the policies to show that countries at taking this existential threat to human civilisation seriously?" Prof Simon Lewis, professor of global change science, University College London, asks.

"Countries have a record of decades of climate inaction. governments need to step up and act fast."