The United Nations offered its starkest update yet about the impact of climate change in a report released Wednesday, warning that climate change isn’t inevitable — it’s already here. And it’s wreaking havoc on the world’s oceans.
“The oceans are sending us so many warning signals that we need to get emissions under control,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and a lead author of the report, told The New York Times. “Ecosystems are changing, food webs are changing, fish stocks are changing, and this turmoil is affecting humans.”
According to the U.N. report, which was written by 104 international experts, climate change and global warming are already killing off the world’s coral reefs. It is also causing the oceans to warm, which in turn helps create massive storms, and aids in the record loss of sea ice. And, as the study’s authors concluded, there may be little humans can do at this point without drastic change.
The authors also noted that 100-year floods will likely become a more normalized occurrence by the year 2050. In some places, those 100-year floods could come about once a year, including in cities like Los Angles.
“What more evidence do we need?" Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement to The Washington Post. "These are our streets flooding, these are our homes burning, and in cities, we know this is real, and this is not just about resilience, it’s about adaptability.”
The authors also noted that if emissions continue to increase at their current rate, sea levels could rise by three feet by the end of the century.
“As a result of excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the ocean today is higher, warmer, more acidic, less productive and holds less oxygen,” Jane Lubchenco, a former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, additionally told The Washington Post. “The conclusion is inescapable: The impacts of climate change on the ocean are well underway. Unless we take very serious action very soon, these impacts will get worse — much, much worse.”
Beyond rising sea levels, aquatic life is also facing peril. This, the report noted, could result in the total collapse of the fishing industry.
“We are an ocean world, run and regulated by a single ocean, and we are pushing that life support system to its very limits through heating, deoxygenation and acidification,” Dan Laffoley of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said in response to the report.
What can we do to stop all this?
"We need to take immediate and drastic action to cut emissions right now,” Hoesung Lee, chair of the U.N. climate panel and an endowed chair at Korea University Graduate School of Energy and Environment, said in a statement. “Especially right from the next year if we want to achieve this carbon neutrality in the mid of the century, and that is the message we’ve found in our three special reports.”
Additionally, the U.N. climate panel called for countries to expand their own renewable energy sources, including solar and offshore wind power, to help cut carbon dioxide emissions. As for what you can do right this second, the panel also suggested humans attempt to shift their diets from land animal meats to a diet that relies on more seafood proteins to further cut emissions.
Want to do even more? Read up on how you can make all your travels a little greener and a bit more environmentally friendly too.