This summer was one for the books -- textbooks that is, what with a global pandemic and the world being literally on fire. Climate news from May through August was nothing short of terrifying for environmentalists. World Overshoot Day passed alarmingly early, a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was released, and record breaking weather events devastated the globe. The IPCC is a United Nations panel that releases a report composed of climate data and analyzes the science of climate change every 6-7 years.
The Global Footprint Network marked June 29th as the date when our consumption of ecological resources exceeded what the earth could generate during a year long period, declaring it World Overshoot Day.
The Global Footprint Network is an international non-profit that assesses global resources management and determines the date of World Overshoot Day. The group utilizes Global Hectare Units (GHA) determined by ecological footprint and biocapacity accounts to rank countries overshoot. The ecological footprint is how much humans consume and waste. Biocapacity is the ecosystem’s ability to regenerate what the population demands of it.
Reaching this date means there is a deficit of resources due to depleted ecological resources such as rainforests. Resource deficits are also due to accumulating waste like released CO2 in the atmosphere. The technical term for this is ecological overshoot.
This year humanity is using a deficit of 1.7 Earths to sustain humans' consumption and waste byproducts. Each nation also has its own overshoot day, assuming the whole world lived like that specific country.
In comparison to the global deficit, the United States has a larger ecological deficit with the eighth earliest national Overshoot Day of March 14 . If all of humanity consumed as much as the US, humans would require 5.0 Earths per year to sustain life.
The implications of World Overshoot Day is that to survive, humanity needs to decrease its human footprint. Additionally, looking at the difference between each country’s Overshoot Day (some do not have them), draws attention to the inequalities in contributions to climate change. Overshoot Day provides evidence that some countries contribute more than others, therefore will likely be taken into account when rolling out adaptations and solutions to climate change.
Not too long after World Overshoot Day, the first section of IPCC’s sixth report (Working Group One: The Physical Sciences) was released on Aug. 9.
The report’s purpose is to provide scientific evidence on the causes, consequences, and solutions of climate change. The United Nations created the panel hoping that these reports would provide policymakers across the globe with updated information on the state of the climate and guide the world towards more aggressive climate policies.
The main takeaway from this report is that climate change is unequivocally real and humanity is already seeing its effects. The headline statements for Summary for Policymakers is split up into four sections (full summary can be found here). Section A, the ‘Current State of the Climate’ affirms that climate change is anthropogenic, unprecedented, is already affecting every region of the Earth, and that this report has high confidence (meaning near certainty according to the IPCC).
Section B, ‘Possible Climate Futures’, asserts that global warming of 1.5-2 degrees Celsius will be exceeded in the 21st century resulting in increased extreme weather events and variability in the global water cycle. This section also certifies that carbon sinks like the ocean will become less effective at reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. This will dramatically change certain environments especially oceans, ice sheets, and the sea level. These changes will be irreversible for centuries to millennia.
Section C, ‘Climate Information for Risk Assessment and Regional Adaptation’, outlines that every region of the world is subject to higher climate variability and unpredictability in the future, and low likelihood but high impact events, such as ice sheet collapse, could become more frequent and detrimental, so must be taken into account when calculating risk assessments.
Section D, ‘Limiting Future Climate Change’, declares limiting the consequences of climate change requires sustained and aggressive mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. This report is worked on and reviewed by the world's best scientists and climate experts, and has costly implications.
Other key takeaways from this report include records from recent years, including an all-time high in atmospheric CO2, the highest rate of surface temperature increase in 2,000 years, the lowest annual Arctic sea ice coverage since 1850, and the fastest sea level rise in over 3,000 years.
We are already seeing the real world implications of these statistics this summer. July 2021, was Earth’s hottest month on record, in the continental US barely surpassing that of the Dust Bowl. Record breaking heat inevitably leads to record breaking wildfires globally, from the Dixie Fire in California stretching across the Mediterranean. There were also record breaking floods globally from China, to Germany, to the Northeastern United States. In late August/early September, Hurricane Ida dropped record breaking levels of rain across the east coast. Flooding experienced globally, as well as on American soil, has caused catastrophic damage, taking an immeasurable loss of life.
All the aforementioned climate news has serious implications for future climate policy and human life. The next international climate conversation is the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). It will be held this November in Glasgow, Scotland and will be discussing the climate crisis, next steps to be taken, and certainly the record breaking news from this past summer.