UN’s 7-year study warns climate change “irreversible”

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Secretary General  fly over Glacial River Hvítá, Lake Hvítárvatn and walks on Glacier Langjökull.
The Langjökull glacier in Iceland has shrunk a lot in the last few decades due to warmer temperatures.

Whew, it’s getting hot out there! No wonder the nearest Target store is fresh out of fans. Worse yet, it’s getting warmer all over the world, according to United Nations (UN) climate change experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

These professionals study the climate (changes in temperature, weather, and air pressure over time), and they’ve noticed a troubling pattern – not only is the climate showing signs of increased heat, it’s also “extremely likely” that most of this global warming is caused by humans. How sure are they? 95% certain!

In their report, the IPCC said that “more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the… increase in greenhouse gas concentration…”

What are these greenhouse gases?

Well, the Earth is wrapped in a layer of air – the atmosphere – which is a mix of several gases. When the Sun shines on Earth, some of the solar heat is trapped inside this atmosphere blanket, keeping us nice and toasty, while the rest goes right back out into space. This is similar to what happens inside an actual greenhouse, which is a glass building that provides a sunny place for plants to grow. Now, though, there are way too many greenhouse gases in the air, so tons of heat is staying right here on our planet rather than escaping back to the starry universe beyond.

See, humans began burning lots of fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil several hundred years ago during the Industrial Revolution, as increasing machine production demanded more and more energy. Instead of people making things by hand or chopping wood to build a fire, it was all about cranking out mega amounts of iron, chemicals, and materials for railroads, boats, and factories. As our technology advanced, the amount of fuel required just kept right on increasing. This, in turn, released lots of carbon dioxide, a chemical that just loves to pile on the gas blankets and snuggle up with the atmosphere.

global warming diagram
It’s certainly been getting hotter!

Since the 1950s, the IPCC says the “atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.” Yikes! The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added, “The heat is on. Now we must act.” He explains, “This new report will be essential for governments as they work to finalize an… agreement on climate change in 2015. The goal is to… keep global temperature rise below the agreed… [level].”

In September, the Secretary-General held a Climate Summit for leaders of governments, businesses, and scientific organizations to come up with solutions.

Is the situation hopeless? Not at all. In fact, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, does recognize that “the challenge becomes more [difficult]” but also believes “the solutions become more [clear].” She is hopeful, saying, “Thankfully, momentum to fight climate change is building. We know that success is possible. We have the technology, funding and ability to respond. The many successes at domestic, international, and private sector levels to build a low-carbon society shine light on the way forward, but we do need to quickly go to scale.” Still, if we don’t act fast, the IPCC says climate change’s effects will be irreversible.

Featured image courtesy of Billy Wilson on Flickr. Images and video of climate change courtesy of IPCC and NASA.