Earth Matters

The New UN Climate Report in One Sentence

October 19th, 2018 by Adam Voiland


In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released yet another sobering report about the planetary disruption happening because of all the carbon human activity puts into the atmosphere.

Many parts of the world are already seeing rising sea levels, hotter temperatures, more extreme precipitation and droughts, more acidic oceans, and faster rates of extinctions, the scientists said. And without dramatic reductions in carbon emissions to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the problems are going to get far worse.

In just one sentence, Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, captured the essence of the report. “The key thing to remember is that it’s clear that the best time to have reduced emissions was 25 years ago,” he said during an interview with PBS News Hour. “But the second best time to reduce emissions is right now.”

Like any good scientist, Schmidt is always quick to give credit where credit is due. In this case, he noted that what he said on television was a riff on something that renowned Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge once said. “The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today,” The New York Times quoted the marathon world record holder as saying.

If you are wondering what the IPCC authors based their findings on, there is no shortage of information to explore. Each chapter of the report has a supplementary information section with dozens of references that detail the evidence the scientists used to draw their conclusions.

For more details, the IPCC also put together a succinct summary for policy makers, a press release, headline statements, and FAQs. Also, below are a few other good resources if you’re looking to understand some of the basics about climate change.

+NASA’s Global Climate Change Evidence Page
+NASA Earth Observatory’s Global Temperatures World of Change
+NOAA Climate Education Resources
+Skeptical Science Climate Change Myths


According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade. Read more about this map here.


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5 Responses to “The New UN Climate Report in One Sentence”

  1. Jerome says:

    My apologies if this post seems morbid or offensive, I mean my question to be sincere and serious.

    What is the estimated time we have left before we face extinction?

    I base that on the premise that we will fail to reduce emissions sufficiently and the worst case scenario of global mass extinction occurs.

    Given the reality of our society, I don’t think it’s that far fetched. Sadly.

  2. David Klein says:

    This is my first comment on NASA Earth Observatory. I am not a scientist by definition but am so in my mind I, having studied it for about 25 years in my own time. My greatest concerns are about ‘global dimming’ and ‘rate of change’, which in turn relates to abrupt climate change as a catastrophic response to global warming, which seems to be a contentious issue.
    Estimating a timeline for extinction is, in my opinion, impossible. For instance, global dimming could be caused by an economic collapse, causing a sudden drop in CO2 emissions and associated aerosols. The latter would cause a sudden rise in global temperature of .4 C in a matter of weeks.
    This, in turn, relates to ‘rate of change’, in this scenario as fast as the Earth has experienced ever.
    Is ignoring these issues related to politicians fear of scaring the people and creating panic and chaos?

  3. Richard Madden says:

    Faster than you think. The Earth is unforgiving, and few except castaways, mountaineers and volcanologists have ever felt its storm and fury and indifference. This might seem strange to you, but the evolutionary history of tooth shape (largely the accumulation of structures for resisting tooth wear) teaches that mammals and our early ancestors experienced much harsher conditions of life than most of us have yet imagined. We are hearty, but we are entering the unknown.

    Estimating or calculating time to extinction is fairly routine in conservation biology. The important variables are harvesting rate and the intrinsic rate of increase. I once calculated time to extinction for species of mammals in a protected area on the slope of the Andes in NW Ecuador, given the rate at which humans living around the reserve harvested (hunted) each for food. It varied with the density of both predator and prey populations (measured through censusing), change in the hunting effort required (species specific), coupled in dynamic interplay with the intrinsic capacity of the populations to reproduce and replace losses. These variables are well known to zoologists.

    There is quite a large effort among scientists to explore human extinction risks and future probabilities (summaries of this work and International Seminars are published regularly). Time to extinction for humanity (and the veneer of our intelligent-technological civilization) is an important feature (term L) of the Drake Equation. The particular themes run a gamut from pandemics with high lethality, coronal mass ejection or nuclear war bringing about a long-term break-down of energy supply, a singularity arising from developments in synthetic genetic engineering or artificial intelligence, etc.

    There seems to be less effort in developing scenarios for humans harvesting humans for food when “normal” food production and distribution become unpredictable, chaotic and collapse. Look around you, there are many humans. Perhaps the best description of our likely future was written by Mike Davis in an extraordinary book “Late Victorian Holocausts” about cyclical ENSO droughts and the famines that accompanied them. The haves and have-nots faced quite different prospects. Sustaining life without food when surrounded by hostility is a frightening prospect, described by Harrison Salisbury in “The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad”, the physicians in the Warsaw ghetto in Leonard Tushnet’s “The Uses of Adversity”, and the disintegration of command under the rigors of cannibalism that haunts Kazuo Hara’s film “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On”.

    The drama will unfold in cycles, be variable in intensity geographically, pockets of privilege will persist and property values are the key to their identity. Do your best to live close, but remember…when you eventually either take to “The Road” or dive into the sewer….first responders have been taught “you cannot take care of others until and unless you take care of yourself first”. What does this mean in practice? Don’t count on anyone for help. Authority, and their capacity to respond, quickly dissolve away as disorder unfolds. The man or woman next to you will be hungry, very hungry.

    No one will be around to document our final extinction because paleontology is a luxury.

    Happy hunting, and happy dining.

  4. ndv says:

    I always thought when seeing company make billions on TV , like…. don’t you see there are huge problem here about our earth?
    Making money won’t change/fix this problem bruhhh.
    And trying to fix things as of now is a bit late, no?

  5. DMG says:

    I’m not a scientist but I read and study. I recently read about the affects of El Nino and Las Nina on our weather patterns and the ocean’s water levels. Conclusion was the oceans levels will rise about 1mm per decade. If true, why the panic? That means oceans will not be covering the coasts as we know them for thousands of years and not by many feet at least. Even if we cut down CO2 levels, how do you stop naturally occurring wildfires and volcano activity that “pollutes” the air? Areas that were once green are now ice covered so we know the earth was in a different state, i.e. ice age and have changed back to green later. I think its ridiculous that people conclude that we are like little gods, so mighty that we can change this Earth to the point of humans becoming extinct.