UN releases dire climate report highlighting rapid environmental degradation

A new United Nations science report warned that the effects of climate change are growing faster and more severe than expected. It cited hunger, disease, poverty and other ills made worse by a warming planet and indicated the repercussions may soon outstrip humanity's ability to adapt. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now let's take a deeper look at the new climate change report the U.N. released today.

    As William Brangham tells us, it provided the starkest warnings yet, not only about what could happen, but what's already been set into motion.

  • William Brangham:

    The evidence is everywhere, burning forests in Argentina, massive floods in Bangladesh, drought in Spain. The impacts of climate change are here, and they're getting worse.

    And according to a landmark United Nations report, not only are some of these impacts worse than previously known; some may already be irreversible.

  • Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General:

    Today's IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.

  • William Brangham:

    The report conducted by a U.N. panel of more than 200 scientists from over 60 countries emphasized that our warming of the planet is unleashing damages at a pace and intensity that many nations won't be able to handle, and that reducing the pollution that's driving climate change isn't happening nearly fast enough.

    Hans Otto Portner>, Co-Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

  • William Brangham:

    The report noted that each additional fraction of warming had serious implications for life on Earth. The report laid out 127 of these threats, including the growing loss of usable farmland and increasing drought, which will threaten the global food supply, rising sea levels and floods, which are already driving tens of thousand of people from their homes, growing numbers of punishing deadly heat waves, and increasing extinction of plant and animal species.

    Ecologist Camille Parmesan was a coordinating lead author for part of the U.N. report.

  • Camille Parmesan, Make Our Planet Great Again, France:

    Some impacts are already irreversible. Even at the 1.09 in warming that we have had, we're already seeing species go extinct, and that is new for the — since the last IPCC report.

  • William Brangham:

    World leaders, including President Biden, have pledged to try and limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

    But with the world's top economies spitting out near record carbon emissions, achieving that goal is getting further out of reach every day. At the current pace, the planet is on track to warm between two and three degrees Celsius this century.

  • Antonio Guterres:

    Global emissions are set to increase almost 14 percent over the current decade. That spells catastrophe. It will destroy any chance of keeping 1.5 alive.

  • William Brangham:

    And if the planet overshoots that 1.5-degree target, as it's expected to, this report warns that some of these damages likely can't be undone.

  • Camille Parmesan:

    Species have already gone extinct because of climate change. Islands have already become uninhabitable because of sea level rise.

  • William Brangham:

    The U.N. report notes that poorer, less developed nations are and will continue to be the hardest hit by the ravages of climate change.

    In 2019, it's estimated that over 13 million people in parts of Asia and Africa were driven from their homes by extreme weather events. The report found that, between 2010 and 2020, droughts, floods and storms killed 15 times as many people in these highly vulnerable countries.

  • Camille Parmesan:

    What you find is that the most vulnerable are the most affected, whether it's the most vulnerable within a country, the poorest, the ones in the most marginalized settlements, or the most vulnerable countries. It works at all scales.

  • William Brangham:

    One hundred and ninety-five governments approved this report. But the head of the U.N. argues that, if past action is any guide, these warnings continue to fall on deaf ears.

  • Antonio Guterres:

    The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal.

  • William Brangham:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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