The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (IPPC AR6) states that “Climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe” and that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”. It adds that “Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”
Observed changes due to climate change include
- Each of the last four decades has been warmer than the one before it and any other since 1850.
- Global surface temperatures in the first two decades of the 21st century were 0.99â„ƒ higher than in the decade 1850-1900 and 1.09â„ƒ higher in 2011-2020 than 1850-1900.
- Globally, average precipitation over land has increased since 1950 with a higher rate of increase since the 1980s.
- Heavy precipitation events have increased in frequency and intensity since the 1950s over most land area.
- Ecological and agricultural droughts have increased in some regions.
- Near-surface ocean salinity has increased.
- Mid latitude storm tracks have shifted towards both the poles since the 1980s.
- Glaciers are retreating and Arctic sea ice has reduced by about 40% in September and 10% in March.
- Spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has reduced since 1950 and the Greenland Ice Sheet is suffering from surface melt.
- The global upper ocean (0-700m) has warned since the 1970s and have become more acidic whilst reducing in oxygen levels at the same time.
- Global sea level has increased by 20cm between 1901 and 2018 with the average rate of sea level rise increasing from a rate of 1.3mm yr-1 to a rate of 3.7mm yr-1 in 2018.
- Climate zones have shifted poleward in both hemispheres since the 1970s.
- There has been an average lengthening of the growing season by up to two days per decade since the 1950s in the Northern Hemisphere extratropic region.
- Hot extremes including heatwaves have increased in frequency and intensity across most land regions since the 1950s.
- Cold extremes have become less frequent and less severe.
- Marine heatwaves have approximately doubled in frequency since the 1980s.
- The global proportion of major tropical cyclone occurrences has increased over the last four decades and their point of peak intensity has shifted northward.
- There has been an increase in compound extreme events (e.g. concurrent heatwaves and droughts, storm surges with extreme rainfall or fire weather) since the 1950s.
Increases in greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), released as a result of human activities, are now known to be causing climate change. Scientists have shown that levels of these three greenhouse gases were higher in 2019 than at any time in the previous 800,000 years and that these gasses have accumulated in the atmosphere over time as we have increasingly industrialised our world and increased our demand for energy (e.g. to heat our homes and work places and places of worship), products and travel.
A matter of justice
Effects of climate change on human populations include:
- Direct health impacts (e.g. heat waves, wild fires, air pollution, weather disasters).
- Health implications (e.g. drought, reduced crop yields, disease).
- Indirect consequences (e.g. impoverishment, displacement/migration, mental health).
- Loss of biodiversity and species extinction.
- Conflict over resources.
Relating the increasingly intensified effects of climate change to other recent events, Bishop Graham Usher, Lead Bishop for the Environment said “The pandemic has foreshadowed the chaos and destruction that will follow should we not cease our exploitation of the environment, our greed for finite resources and the neglect of our interconnected nature on this precious planet. The Church is called to be a people of hope; to live in harmony with our world; to treasure God's creation and our brothers and sisters around the globe.”
In February 2020, members of the Church of England’s General Synod set new targets to reach a point where by the amount of greenhouses gasses released in to the atmosphere as a result of church life are reduced to zero or balanced by removal out of the atmosphere (otherwise known as “net zero”) by 2030.
During the Synod debate, Bishop of Salisbury, Nick Holtam said “Synod has set an ambitious target for the whole Church of England to respond to the urgency of the Climate Crisis. To reach Synod’s target of 2030 will not be easy, and requires each of us to hear this as an urgent call to action. But this is a clear statement of intent across the Church and to wider society about our determination to safeguard God’s creation. This is a social justice issue, which affects the world’s poorest soonest and most severely, and if the Church is to hold others to account, we have to get our own house in order.”