Major new report confirms just 2°C of warming will trigger irreversible global damage
1 December 2023
Ahead of COP28, the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) published its annual State of the Cryosphere Report which warns that even 2°C – the “upper” Paris Agreement temperature limit – will lead to catastrophic global damage from loss of ice sheets, mountain glaciers and snow, sea ice, permafrost, and in polar oceans.
Advances in cryosphere science research since the 2015 Paris Agreement confirm that 1.5°C is not merely preferable to 2°C – it is the only option.
Leading cryosphere scientists warn of severe and irreversible consequences for millions of people, societies, and nature, and call for the phase out of fossil fuels and financial mechanisms to finance climate action.
Major report calls on global leaders to take 2°C off the table, defining Paris Agreement “well below 2°C” as meaning 1.5°C alone in COP28 Cover Decision.
Professor Helen Findlay commented:
“This report highlights the urgency of prioritising ambitious and coordinated action to address unprecedented and enduring changes in the ocean and cryosphere - the frozen parts of the planet.”
“Global warming has already reached 1°C above the pre-industrial level - due to past and current greenhouse gas emissions – and the ocean is warmer, more acidic and less productive. Melting glaciers, ice sheets and expanding seas are causing sea level rise, and coastal extreme events are becoming more severe. There is overwhelming evidence that this is resulting in profound consequences for ecosystems and people.”
“Hundreds of millions people in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states depend directly on these systems. And, of course, the ocean and the cryosphere play a critical role for life on Earth, so every one of us will be impacted. The level of that impact will depend on how society around the world responds to the challenge of reducing our CO2 emissions.”
“To reiterate: the data shows that 1.5°C is not merely preferable to 2°C – it is the only option. This is a stark wake-up call on the irreversible damage our climate and natural environment is suffering due to a lack of action on emissions. Urgent steps must now be taken to ensure further catastrophe is avoided. We must act now.”
“The need for urgent action is supported by a Call to Cryosphere Action in the lead up to UNFCCC COP28 by Cryosphere scientists. I would personally encourage cryosphere scientists globally to join in supporting this call here: Cryosphere Call to Action – COP28: 2°C is Too High.”
Reviewed and supported by over 60 leading cryosphere scientists, the report shows that all of the Earth’s frozen parts will experience irreversible damage at 2°C of global warming, with disastrous consequences for millions of people, societies, and nature.
Key findings in the report on the impact of 2°C of warming include:
Ice sheets: nearly all of Greenland, much of West Antarctica, and even vulnerable portions of East Antarctica will be triggered to very long-term, inexorable sea-level rise.
Glaciers: extensive, irreversible ice loss from the world’s glaciers in many major river basins, with some disappearing entirely. As glaciers melt, risks of catastrophic events such as landslides, sudden ice shears, and glacial lake outburst floods increase.
Sea ice: extensive sea ice loss at both poles, with severe feedbacks to global weather and climate. By 2°C, the Arctic Ocean will be sea ice-free in summer every year, potentially for several months.
Permafrost: extensive permafrost thaw and resulting greenhouse gas emissions will cause temperatures to continue to rise, even once human emissions reach zero. At 2°C, annual total permafrost emissions (both CO2 and methane) would total the size of the entire European Union’s emissions from 2019.
Polar ocean acidification: year-round, permanent corrosive ocean acidification conditions in many regions of Earth’s polar and near-polar seas. Shell-building animals, and commercial fisheries that rely on them in the food chain may not survive.
In response to the Report, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister, Iceland, said: “From the Cryosphere point of view, 1.5°C is not simply preferable to 2°C or higher. It is the only option. At COP28, we need a frank Global Stocktake, and fresh urgency especially due to what we have learned about Cryosphere feedbacks, worsening for each additional tenth of a degree in temperature rise. We need tangible results, and clear guidelines to phase out fossil fuels and for financial mechanisms to finance climate action.”
Professor Julie Brigham-Grette, University of Massachusetts Amherst, said: “Our message is that this insanity cannot and must not continue. COP28, and December 2023, must be when we correct course. Otherwise, world leaders are de facto deciding to burden humanity for centuries to millennia by displacing hundreds of millions of people from flooding coastal settlements; depriving societies of life-giving freshwater resources, disrupting delicately-balanced polar ocean ecosystems; and forcing future generations to offset long-term permafrost emissions.”
Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), said: “The Hindu Kush Himalaya is at the epicentre of the global cryosphere crisis with our glaciers, snow, and permafrost already undergoing unprecedented and irreversible changes. These changes are upending the lives of mountain communities by increasing uncertainty in the timing, availability, and seasonal distribution of mountain water resources, threatening water, food, and energy security. The State of the Cryosphere Report is a warning to global leaders that inaction at COP28 will be disastrous.”
The publication of the State of the Cryosphere Report comes at a critical time before the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP28) which is taking place in Dubai from 30 November 2023 - 12 December 2023. The Report’s Foreword calls on global leaders to enshrine the commitment to “1.5°C alone” in the Cover Decision because 2°C is too high for the cryosphere. Cryosphere scientists last week launched “Call for the Cryosphere”, a parallel global campaign, at the One Planet Polar Summit in Paris. The “Call” urges global leaders to agree on guidelines to make 1.5°C a reality; a path to phase out fossil fuels; and financial mechanisms to support climate action; as well as the adaptation to, and loss and damage from, climate change.
“2023 has been a year of climate disasters and ice loss, which has underlined the urgent need for global leaders to recognise that two degrees is too high for Earth’s cryosphere,” concluded Pam Pearson, Director of ICCI. “Today’s landmark report shows that we need to take 2°C off the table.”
ICCI (www.iccinet.org), a non-partisan research and independent organization, was founded soon after COP-15 in Copenhagen by former climate negotiators and cryosphere scientists to focus on climate policies related to polar and mountain regions, in coordination with current negotiators and the scientific community. At UNFCCC COPs, ICCI organizes and hosts the Cryosphere Pavilion; and also serves as the secretariat to the Ambition on Melting Ice (AMI) high-level group on Sea-level Rise and Mountain Water Resources, founded by 20 nations at COP27 in Egypt (www.ambitionmeltingice.org). A registered non-profit both in Sweden (as ICCI-Europe) and the U.S., ICCI frequently organizes science-policy dialogues; as well as supports demonstration-scale mitigation projects with special promise for positive climate impacts on, and benefits for communities in, cryosphere regions.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), based in Kathmandu, is the leading institute for the study of the Hindu Kush Himalaya. An intergovernmental knowledge and development organisation with a focus on climate and environmental risks, green economies and sustainable action, it has worked in and for its eight regional member countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan – since its foundation in 1983. Previous publications include the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Report (Wester et al., 2019) – the first comprehensive assessment on mountains, climate change, sustainability and people and which established the global significance of the Hindu Kush Himalaya. In May 2023, it launched the #SaveOurSnow campaign and declaration calling for urgent action to protect Earth’s mountains, snow, and ice. The declaration has already signed by thousands of earth scientists, members of mountain communities, climate negotiators, athletes, environmental organisations. http://www.icimod.org/saveoursnow