Arctic sea ice, © Dr. Pablo Clemente-Colon

Unraveling the New Climate Report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a 2,200 page report. Here’s what you need to know about it.

What Is This Report?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an international body of scientists established by the United Nations in 1988, with an official charge to assess the “risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.” The group has put out four reports, the most recent of which was released in 2007 and was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize. The fifth report will be completed next October, but the first of three “working groups” contributing to the final has completed its job of synthesizing the available information on the “Physical Science Basis.”

It was a monumental task: more than 200 authors and 600 additional experts waded through more than 9,200 publications in order to get a picture of changes in the climate system, the drivers of climate change, understanding recent (observed) changes, and future (projected) global and regional changes. The report itself is 2,200 pages, but most readers will be able to get the information they need from the 36-page Summary for Policymakers, or the 129-page Technical Summary. For a really quick look, there is also a two-page Headline Statement.

What Did They Find?
Those 2200 pages boil down to a stark and simple message: “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and “human influence on the climate system is clear.” That means that taking into account all of the different things that can impact Earth’s climate (solar cycles, volcanic eruptions, etc.), the climate has warmed more than can be explained except by our greenhouse gas emissions.

Here is where we stand today:

  • Surface temperatures have risen (1.5°F) 0.85°C over the period from 1880 to 2012
  • It is “likely” (meaning there is at least a 2 out of 3 chance) that 1983 to 2012 was the warmest 30-year period in the past 1400 years
  • It is “very likely” (at least a 90% chance) that most land areas are experiencing more hot days and fewer cold days than in the 1950s
  • Sea level has risen 7.5 inches since 1901
  • The area of the Arctic covered by sea ice decreased at rate of 3.5 to 4.1 percent per decade since 1979, and ice sheets in Greenland, Antarctica, and most glaciers are shrinking.
Hurricane Sandy, © NASA

Hurricane Sandy, as seen from space (© NASA)

Looking to the future, if we continue to release greenhouse gases at the rate we have been, we will be on the path to:

  • A global average temperature increase of nearly 7°F (3.7°C) by 2080 to 2100, with seasonal and geographic differences much greater.
  • 2.5 feet of sea level rise by 2100
  • A two-in-three chance of nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century
  • More warm spells, heat waves and heavy precipitation events are “likely” in the near term and “very likely” or “virtually certain” by the end of the century
  • An increasing likelihood of more intense weather events like droughts and hurricanes, especially later in the century.

Since this first “working group” was only charged with looking at the climate science, they did not delve into what the impacts of these changes will be for people, wildlife and ecosystems. That will be the job of the next group, who will be issuing their report in spring. However, the implications of the findings to date, particularly for species that depend on ice, cool climates, or fragile coastal habitats, are as clear as they are grim. Our responsibility to both slow the rate of climate change and protect the natural world from the worst of its effects is indisputable.

Aimee Delach is Defenders’ Senior Policy Analyst for Climate Adaptation

Categories: Climate Change

20 Responses to “Unraveling the New Climate Report”

  1. cay murphy

    Since this change is occurring rapidly , This life giving planet and Man , has not adjusted to what this change ,will bring forth. Species will become extinct, environments and ecosystems will be destroyed, our food source will be difficult to grow ,beneficial insects and plants will die . The oceans creatures will die, coral will die and as the ocean get warmer,all life will be effected. We will have more red and toxic algae and fungus growth. The imbalance on this Earth , will effect all life. And at this rapid change ,will man survive ???

  2. Gabriel Caldera

    What can i do to help contribute to bringing down climate change?

  3. Joel Mofsenson

    IMHO the wealthy who run the show must be convinced that their NEAR TERM bottom line will improve by implementing whatever it takes to address our environmental issues. If we cannot frame our concerns in that manner then all the science in the world will not have enough energy to change very much at all.In other words if they can’t make a buck by doing it, they won’t.

  4. Maria Duca

    As citizens who consider themselves environmentalists, we need to overcome the voices of the climate deniers and effectively energize the public at large and the media. Join a local environmental group that advocates for sound policies to combat climate change, write letters to the editors of newspapers, contact your representatives, both state and federal, attend hearings of the EPA, write to the President, etc

  5. Anne

    Our beautiful planet which sustains all forms of life is a rare and precious gift. We need to do all we can to care for it and preserve it for future generations.

  6. Todd

    I get so sick and tired of hearing about the nations deficit and leaving it to our children and grandchildren to take care of. All these idiots care about is the all mighty $$$$ and not the world there children and grandchildren are going to have to live in. There view seems to be Hell I won’t be around when everything go to shit so I’ll make as much $$$$while i’m still here and hell with my children and grandchildren!!!!!!!!

  7. Bobbie White

    Population control is essential.
    Basically, and simply, stop growth of man for the next 50 years and maybe we will have a chance. Sounds easy but try to tell the nations of the world who believe 6 to 10 children is a given, and don’t believe in birth control of any sort.
    Yep, if we can’t at least stop the population from growing and I mean STOP IT COMPLETELY, I feel we are doomed.

  8. John Roorbach

    The discovery of the exponential affects of climate change are not simply with the climate. Continued corporate denial and investment in the production of agri-chemicals and petro-based fuels continues to expand as populations increase. The science is far from perfect but it is providing clues, like bread crumbs, leading us to clearer decisions as individuals, families, cities, towns and nations… Our opportunity to preserve life is in our hands…

  9. Ling Yai

    There’s a lot you can do right now:
    – carpool (I’ve been doing it for 50 years)
    – stop eating meat – it;s killing you and the Planet, not to mention torturing animals. From deforestation to refrigeration to transportation, meal is a major contributor to Global Warming. Meat will also kill you – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity. I learned how bad eat is when I was in Cancer epidemiology.
    – Cloth shopping bags cut down on Plastic consumption.
    – Tune up your car.
    – Energy efficient lights, no air con
    – no more babies (I made the decision in 1960 not to have children – I don;t want them to suffer through what’s coming)
    – No Air Con, Solar Hot water
    There are dozens of more things you can do. All these are biggies. Do these, and then ask me for more.


    We all are at fault, even many of us who recognize that climate change is indeed occurring and that we are, at least in part, responsible due to the use of our many technologies. It may not be possible to go back to a less energy-intensive way of life, but come on folks, at the very least, turn off the lights when you leave the room! Is that so hard to do? Recycle when possible. Put on sweaters in your home before turning the heat up. Don’t take your cars out so often; combine chores on each run.

  11. Sierra

    Gabriel: bike, walk, or carpool when you can instead of driving. Use less electricity in your life (since electricity is usually powered by burning fossil fuels, which contributes to climate change). Recycle paper and use recycled paper products since logging of trees releases CO2 from the ground. You can also write to your local politician and organize a activist group.

  12. Arlene Epperson

    All governments world over need to act as one on climate change NOW!!!

  13. Arlene Epperson

    All governments the world over will have to work together to solve this if it is to be solved.

  14. Merlene Stuerzer-Rhodes

    In the end no one is going to do anything to change. This was known years ago, and still nobody has done one thing about it. And don’t count on them ever doing so. I am 71 so I probably won’t experience the extinction that’s coming. But I sure hurt for all life on this planet that will. I do wish that people will take this serious and start tomorrow to save our lovely, life giving planet. But human nature being what it is….I feel this will not happen. People forgot that one must not soil one’s own nest! But they don’t want to change their way of life, so goodbye to planet Earth. All those lovely animals did nothing to harm mother earth, yet they will suffer the most. Pray for the animals and all the good people who never harmed Mother Earth. What a waste…what a pity.

  15. Barb Holcomb

    We must not let our govt. officials get away with ignoring or shelving their responsibilities to help us fight climate change. Media outlets must be pestered and embarrassed into more coverage of climate change facts. This is only going to get worse and we must address whatever we can right now. We do not have the luxury of time spent in unending government investigations that rarely do anything but waste time and money. The do-nothing, obstruct everything members of our elected bodies must be strongly advised by “We the people” that their vacation from reality is at an end. Now!! Climate change endeavors will create jobs and stability for everyone. If half the money spent on military hardware were devoted to saving this planet, we might actually have a future.

  16. Miranda

    and most people just shrug it off and bury their heads in the sand! oh what will it take to awaken these “headless” people!

  17. Dan Pollack

    Since Earth’s Climate had shown variability through out history, does the detail in the report indicate the proportion of climate change that are not man made but are driven by solar activity, earth orbit variations, volcanic activity, etc., is the proportion that can be traced directly to man’s activity detailed and supported with un-adjusted data?

  18. Susanne Foley

    This is all balderdash!! For those of you who don’t know what that means -it means it is garbage. Lately, scientists have said that global warming is NOT happening. This is a made-up charge for political purposes.

  19. Nancy Wells


  20. Lisa Goodrich

    Taking the wolves off the Endangered Species list will leave them immediately vulnerable to hunters that nearly drove them to extinction in the first place. Please reconsider this ill-conceived plan.

You May also be interested in