Looking ahead to a hotter future

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Earth Cannot Avoid a Warmer Future / View Guide

Directions for teachers:

Ask students to read the online Science News article “The new UN climate change report shows there’s no time for denial or delay,” which describes a massive scientific assessment that concludes human-caused climate change is behind extreme weather events. A version of the story, “Earth cannot avoid a warmer future,” appears in the September 11, 2021 issue of Science News.

1. What is the IPCC? What does the IPCC do and who is involved?

The IPCC is the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel is made up of hundreds of scientists from around the world that come together to analyze thousands of studies. Based on the scientists’ analysis, the panel forms a consensus of how Earth’s climate is changing and what role humans play in those changes.

2. What did the IPCC report recently about human impact on Earth’s climate?

Humans are driving major shifts in Earth’s climate, and the effects are now found in every region around the world and are intensifying at a fast pace.

3. What extreme events that are already happening does the IPCC’s report link to climate change? Give some examples.

Drought and wildfires in the western United States, heat waves in Europe and flooding in Asia.

4. What are climate scenarios? Why are there multiple scenarios in the IPCC report?

The scenarios cover different levels of warming over preindustrial times based on different levels of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as what the effects of that warming might be. Multiple scenarios are included because the amount of future warming depends on a mix of social, economic and technological developments. If humans curb greenhouse gas emissions immediately, for example, future warming will look much different than if emissions continue as they are now.

5. Define net-zero carbon emissions.

Net-zero carbon emissions is when the amount of carbon emitted is negated by carbon removal from the atmosphere.

6. How might achieving net-zero by 2050 affect Earth’s climate?

If the world gets to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, temperatures would decrease in the following decades, though they would not come down to preindustrial levels.

7. What is a near-future climate change effect that is irreversible, according to the report? How could reducing greenhouse gas emissions now help?

Sea level will rise until about 2300 as Greenland’s ice sheet continues to melt. Even though rising sea level is inevitable, reducing emissions sharply and quickly will slow how much sea level rises by 2100.

8. How many reports has the IPCC released? How has climate science changed since the first report was released, and what was a major finding of the fifth report?

The IPCC has released six reports since 1990. Over the last 30 years, technological advances have improved scientists’ understanding of climate change. The fifth report was the first to state that human activity is driving climate change.

9. What is the Paris Agreement? What special report did the IPCC undertake due to the agreement, and what did the report find?

The Paris Agreement was an agreement made by 195 nations to reduce emissions to limit warming by 2 degrees C over preindustrial levels. Some nations didn’t think 2 degrees C was a strict enough limit, so the IPCC analyzed a scenario in which the world limited warming to 1.5 degrees C. The report showed that just a half degree of extra warming could make a big difference, from higher sea level to an increased likelihood of heat waves.
10. What impact do IPCC scientists hope the new report will have?

IPCC scientists hope the new report will encourage heads of state to act more strongly to limit climate change.