Global warming, extreme heatwaves, and forest fires: the IPCC report blows the whistle *

Propelled by an intense heat wave, forest fires have dangerously reached the Mediterranean rim as their intensity increased rapidly and releasing toxic fumes.

“Currently 150,000 fires are in progress around the world and have impacts on the atmosphere” warns Toussaint Barboni, member of the CNRS and lecturer at the University of Corsica on forest fires. Their frequency and power increase with climate change and is reaching regions in the north of the globe that are not used to fires and have firefighters less well prepared for this risk. The fumes and a large number of chemical compounds, mainly CO2, methane, NOx (nitrogen oxides) and the particles released have a chronic effect on the human body and deteriorate air quality.

Echoing the scientists’ findings, UN Secretary General António Guterres said: ” […] This is a code red for humanity. […] If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. There is hope that deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases could stabilise rising temperatures. ”

The assessment of the Climate Change 2021, The Physical Science Basis report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)* details the future impacts that carbon pollution will have on the region, which the last two weeks sweltered in above-average temperatures while Greece and Turkey battle record-breaking blazes. The landmark study is the first major review of the science of climate change since 2013 and the release comes less than three months before the key climate summit in Glasgow – COP26. The report warns of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and a key temperature limit being broken in just over a decade.

The IPCC report identifies the Mediterranean as a “climate change hotspot”. The most comprehensive assessment of climate impacts ever assembled concludes that only a scenario in which global warming is limited to below 2C — the core target of the 2015 Paris Agreement — “is likely to maintain coastal settlements, cultural heritage sites, land and ocean ecosystems in a viable state in most parts of the (Mediterranean) basin”.

The Mediterranean’s more than half-a-billion inhabitants face “highly interconnected climate risks,” says a chapter dedicated to the region. Reasons for concern include sea-level rise related risks, land and marine biodiversity losses, risks related to drought, wildfire, alterations of water cycle, endangered food production, health risks in both urban and rural settlements from heat and altered disease vectors and temperatures rising across the Mediterranean faster than the global average in the decades to come.

While this report is more clear and confident about the downsides to warming, the scientists are more hopeful that if we can cut global emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by the middle of this century, we can halt and possibly reverse the rise in temperatures.

if we are able to achieve net zero, we hopefully won’t get any further temperature increase; and if we are able to achieve net zero greenhouse gases, we should eventually be able to reverse some of that temperature increase and get some cooling” says Prof Piers Forster from the University of Leeds, UK.

* The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of scientists whose findings are endorsed by the world’s governments.

Sources: 

  • Margaux Lacroux, Liberation ” Réchauffement climatique – Pollution : «Les 150 000 feux en cours dans le monde ont des impacts sur l’atmosphère», published August 4, 2021 ; 
  • Matt McGrath, BBC, ‘”Climate change: IPCC report is ‘code red for humanity'”, published August 9, 2021
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