The ten most important insights from climate science

Picture of coral reef

To avoid the risk of tipping points, scientists argue we can gain a lot if we focus our efforts on marine ecosystems. They have a potential to deliver a triple benefit: carbon storage, biodiversity preservation and seafood supply. Photo: B. Christensen/Azote

New report launched at COP26 in Glasgow summarizes the most pressing research findings and emerging insights from climate science

Story highlights

  • The new report is based on a “horizon scan” study of the most pressing research findings and emerging scientific insights in climate science
  • Written by 54 leading researchers from 21 countries it outlines the most important recent findings from a wide range of disciplines
  • The findings are followed by policy recommendations on e.g. tipping points, nature-based solutions, just transformations, and ocean resilience

A new report launched during the COP26 meeting in Glasgow outlines the ten most important new insights from climate science.

It is based on a recent horizon scan study published in the journal Global Sustainability and includes no less than 54 leading climate researchers from 21 countries.

The report, which is supported by the World Climate Research Programme, the Earth League, and Future Earth, accompanies each insight by targeted policy recommendations at various scales of action. It was presented to Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), during a press conference at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Stay far away from 2°C

Three centre researchers contributed to the report: Thorsten Blenckner, Jonathan Donges and Johan Rockström, the latter two of which are also affiliated with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.

The first major insight is that it is still possible to stabilize at 1.5°C warming, but also that immediate and drastic global action is required to avoid the risk of tipping points.

One example is how large parts of the Amazon might switch from rainforest to open savannah, causing a potential permanent loss of the Amazon basin as a major carbon sink.

“We do not know exactly at what temperature tipping elements shift from dampening to self-reinforcing global warming, but it is increasingly clear that we must stay as far away as possible from 2°C. This makes tipping elements like our large forest systems, and the Greenland ice sheet, our new global commons, which need to be governed by the world community, to secure our future on Earth," says Johan Rockström.

Ten insights

The full list of new insights are:

  • Stabilizing at 1.5°C warming is still possible, but immediate and drastic global action is required
  • Rapid growth in methane and nitrous oxide emissions put us on track for 2.7°C warming
  • Megafires – climate change forces fire extremes to reach new dimensions with extreme impacts
  • Climate tipping elements incur high-impact risks
  • Global climate action must be just
  • Supporting household behaviour changes is a crucial but often overlooked opportunity for climate action
  • Political challenges impede the effectiveness of carbon pricing
  • Nature-based solutions are critical for the pathway to Paris – but look at the fine print
  • Building resilience of marine ecosystems is achievable by climate-adapted conservation and management, and global stewardship
  • Costs of climate change mitigation can be justified by the multiple immediate benefits to the health of humans and nature

Figure from the new report illustrating the fifth insight that “Global climate action must be just”. It shows that the richest 10% of the global population have been responsible for more than half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2015

Oceans play a crucial role

Centre researcher Thorsten Blenckner contributed in particular to the report’s ninth insight on marine ecosystems.

The study behind the report shows that we can gain a lot if we focus our efforts on marine ecosystems. They have a potential to deliver a triple benefit: carbon storage, biodiversity preservation and seafood supply.

Thorsten Blenckner

“Time is running out, but if we manage the oceans smart, it is achievable.”

Peter Schlosser from Arizona State University, co-chair of the Earth League, was on the editorial board of the report.

He stresses the importance of launching it during COP26: “It is our hope that this summary of the latest research from scientists around the world can help drive the global transformations we so desperately need.”

Link to report

Published: 2021-11-04

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