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Major report Global warming will hit 'critical zone' within 20 years, world's leading scientists warn

They say temperature rise will hit 1.5C by 2040 even in the current best-case scenario where greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to very low levels

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A man watches as wildfires approach Kochyli beach near Limni village on the island of Evia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Athens, Greece.

A man watches as wildfires approach Kochyli beach near Limni village on the island of Evia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Athens, Greece.

A man watches as wildfires approach Kochyli beach near Limni village on the island of Evia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Athens, Greece.

Global warming will enter a critical zone within 20 years, the world’s leading climate scientists have warned.

They say temperature rise will hit 1.5C by 2040 even in the current best-case scenario where greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to very low levels.

That means more of the extreme weather events seen recently which have been attributed to the current warming of 1.1C and the impact this has on climate patterns.

At 1.5C, one-in-ten-year heatwaves are expected 3-4 times in a decade while drought, heavy rainfall and flooding will also occur with greater frequency and intensity.

At 2C of warming, which is more likely at current emission rates, the scientists say: “Heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health.”

They warn: “Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5C or even 2C will be beyond reach.”

The warnings are in a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) convened by the United Nations to inform policymakers on latest climate research.

“We need urgent action,” said Professor Peter Thorne of Maynooth University, one of the 234 authors.

“Every increment of warming matters and every action we take, every choice we make and everything we do to influence that matters.”

More than 14,000 research papers were analysed and they showed changes in the Earth’s climate happening “in every region and across the whole climate system”.

Climate changes were clearly shown in the previous IPCC report in 2013 but it said human activity was “extremely likely” to be the main cause.

This report points the finger more firmly at human behaviour, chiefly carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, and methane from agriculture, oil and gas.

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“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” it says.

The scientists say that elements of climate change, particularly ice sheet melt and sea level rise, are now locked in and will be irreversible for hundreds or thousands of years.

“It will take thousands of years for sea level to catch up with even historical emissions and that’s a huge timebomb for future generations because the last time temperature was as warm as today on a sustained basis, 125,000 years ago, sea level was 5-10 metres higher,” Professor Thorne said.

Regional analysis signals sea-related events will cause problems for Europe and Ireland even in the near-term with more intense coastal flooding and retreat of shorelines.

Increased flooding from intense rainfall is forecast for Ireland at 1.5C and contrasting extremes of increased river floods and summer droughts at 2C.

The report also says September sea ice in the Arctic, when it is at its thinnest, will disappear at least once by 2050, and that the ability of the sea and soils to absorb and retain carbon dioxide is diminishing.

Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan has said Ireland needs to “start now” in tackling emissions as it’s “our very future we are talking about”.

“We have to halve our emissions in the next decade and we have to go carbon neutral by the middle of the century. That’s a huge change but I feel it can be change for the better. How we change our transport and energy systems, our food and land use systems; we can do it in a way that makes [Ireland] a better country,” Mr Ryan told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

He said, “doing nothing is not an option” and added that ambition and change are needed on grand scales.

“The science is now ever clearer and unequivocal that if you don’t make these changes, the cost of inaction, the consequences of not bringing emissions down are beyond compare. It’s our very future we are talking about and we need to start now.

“There’s real certainty and clarity in the science and our window for action is closing. We have to act fast,” he said.

Minister Ryan said the changes Ireland needs to make are possible, such as “using our own renewable power to stop using fossil fuels”.

Ireland’s first carbon budget will come next month, Mr Ryan said, followed by a more detailed plan designed to gather political agreement and public confidence in the actions to be taken on climate change.

“The report today will be unequivocal that the science is clear; the cost of inaction will far outweigh any cost of action”.

It comes as world leaders prepare for the UN climate conference in 12 weeks’ time when progress on efforts to limit warming to as close to 1.5C as possible will be checked.

While most countries, including Ireland, have submitted plans committing to cut emissions to stabilise warming, few have put them into action yet.

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