United Nations report on climate change sets off alarm bells

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Countries in the southern hemisphere will be among the worse off, the report said. The report draws on research conducted since nations unveiled the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which seeks to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and limit global temperature increase to between 1.5 and 2 °C.

The assessment was released after three years of research and a week of tough negotiations between scientists and government officials at a meeting in South Korea.

Debra Roberts, co-chair of IPCC Working Group II (which assesses the impacts of climate change) said the report gives policymakers and practitioners "the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people's needs".

Envoys at the 2015 Paris talks asked the IPCC to study what it would take to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, a more ambitious goal than the previous 2-degree target.

Governments around the world must take "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" to avoid disastrous levels of global warming, says a stark new report from the global scientific authority on climate change.

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The global temperature is now 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. "We're not on track, we're now heading for about 3 degrees or 4 degrees of warming by 2100", Mark Howden, a climate change scientist at Australian National University, said during an online briefing on Sunday. We need to invest in new technology and new training, and we need to ensure access to clean, reliable energy for all to lift even more people out of poverty.

It is based on more than 6,000 scientific references and contributions from thousands of experts and government reviewers around the world.

"At 1.5 degrees, we will see the consequences of climate-related risks to our health, our livelihoods, our food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth", Penny Wong, Labor's acting spokeswoman for climate change, said. Coral reefs would decline by 70 percent to 90 percent with global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, whereas virtually all would be lost with 2 degrees Celsius. The limited temperature increase would result in the saving of at least some of the world's coral reefs, a key ecosystem supporting global fisheries. Any additional carbon dioxide emissions would require removing the harmful gas from the air.

Global temperature is now rising 0.2C with each decade, and it is estimated we will reach 1.5C by 2040.

The lower target would also reduce species loss and extinction and the impact on terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems, the report said.

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And temperatures are expected to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current rates, according to the report.

The report goes to great lengths to point out the differences between allowing temperatures to rise towards 2 degrees C above pre-industrial times, or keeping them nearer to 1.5. Starting in 1994, a central aim of the UN's climate change efforts (the Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC) was to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would "prevent risky anthropogenic interference with the climate system". "It is crucial to keep temperature rise well below 1.5 degrees without offsetting, carbon markets, and geoengineering, but the evidence presented by the IPCC shows that there is a narrow and shrinking window in which to do so". "Each year that the global economy fails to decarbonize at the required rate, the two-degree goal becomes more hard to achieve".

Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching "net zero" around 2050.

A rise in global temperatures by another 0.5 degree Celsius would increase, deepen and spread the impacts wider, the scientists concluded.

There will also need to be emissions cuts in industry, transport and buildings as well as the restoring of forests and potential changes to lifestyle.

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The IPCC report was timed to feed into the December UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, where world leaders will be under pressure to ramp up national carbon-cutting pledges which - even if fulfilled - would yield a 3C world.