New UN climate report predicts a dangerous future unless we act now

Transformative action can help curb the worst impacts of the climate crisis

A small bit of water reflects the blue sky and clouds in a mostly dried up fishing pan

Increases in extreme weather events are surpassing the resilience of some human and natural systems, a major new United Nations scientific report on the climate crisis concluded. And it’s too late for some plants and animals, as irreversible consequences have already been locked in.

Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, the ability for us to adapt will decrease and we’re closer to dangerous thresholds than previously thought, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists convened by the UN.

Still, even at 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, there’s much we can do to avoid worst-case scenarios and prepare for impacts we can no longer avert.

“This is not a 50-year issue, this is not a 20-year issue, it’s not even a five-year issue,” said Marcene Mitchell, senior vice president of climate change at WWF. “We need to do everything possible to limit the impacts described in the report and start making the changes necessary to prepare for the ones that are inevitable at this point.”

Here’s a look at some of the takeaways from the report—and what we can do to address the climate emergency.

a dirt pathway through a lush green rainforest

We're seeing substantial negative impacts right now.
 A record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia last summer caused the mercury to rise to 110 degrees and resulted in hundreds of deaths. Warming is still below the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit we hope not to exceed, yet we're already seeing devastating and deadly impacts such as this. Worsening extreme weather events are causing widespread and severe impacts on people, wildlife, and infrastructure, as well as ecosystems and the resources they provide. And this affects mainly the most vulnerable people and ecosystems.

Some climate crisis risks and consequences are already guaranteed.
Historical and expected trends in emissions of heat-trapping fossil fuels guarantee irreversible consequences, even if we slash emissions to zero right now. And it's already too late for some plants and animals that will experience changing conditions beyond their ability to adapt.

We face the dangers of compound and cascading impacts. 
The impacts of the climate crisis don't necessarily affect only the people, wildlife, and resources in the place where they're directly experienced. A drought in Mexico could destroy tomato crops, for example, with cascading effects that impact the transport companies that bring them to market, the businesses that export them, and the people who purchase them for cooking at home or in a restaurant. Likewise, a coastal town could experience a severe hurricane made more drastic by intense flooding because of rising sea levels. These risks are now better understood—and larger and more severe than initially thought.

Nature can help us.
Nature is an undeniable tool for buffering the impacts of the climate crisis.

Areas with large-scale degradation have worse impacts than places that invest in maintaining robust and healthy natural resources. Nature-based solutions—natural systems or processes used to help achieve societal goals—can help protect infrastructure, health, and more. Mangroves along a coastline can help shelter buildings onshore, for example. And wetlands can prevent extreme flooding.

We can still stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius—and every fraction of a degree matters.
The science shows that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will substantially reduce loss and damage to people and ecosystems. We also have time to better prepare for the impacts we can no longer avoid. We just need to act quickly and at scale.

We need transformative action.
We don't need to panic or feel defeated. We need productivity. We already know what to do about the climate crisis, and we have solutions and policies ready to deploy to meet this challenge. The choices we make now will determine our future—one in which people and nature thrive rather than simply survive. What we do today will impact emissions, the level of global warming, and the severity of climate risks in the future.