The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released part of its Sixth Assessment Report, unequivocally linking human influence to the warming of the atmosphere, land and ocean. It comes as unprecedented fires and floods act as a wake-up call for the Northern Hemisphere, but for some – like the island nations of the Pacific – the climate crisis has been a reality for decades.
Among a swathe of dire results, the new report found that the global mean sea level has risen faster over the past 100 years than in any other century in at least 3,000 years. In the last decade alone, sea levels across the world have risen an average of four millimetres per year – and this rate is now accelerating.
Even if we rapidly slash emissions, the seas will still rise by half a metre by the end of the century, the report says – though under higher emissions scenarios, this could swell to nearly two metres. And the water could continue to rise for centuries or even millennia, as the ice sheets disappear and the ocean absorbs heat from the atmosphere.
“Worldwide, unmitigated emissions will impact hundreds of millions of people over the 21st century and beyond,” warns Professor John Church, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and an author on previous IPCC reports.
But for those who live on islands and in coastal communities, the consequences of our actions have already arrived – and in just decades, these places could lose everything.