Climate change report warns oceans warming and rising faster, putting lives at risk

New U.N. climate report raises alarm

Last Updated Sep 25, 2019 7:39 AM EDT

Monaco — A United Nations-backed report on climate change released Wednesday is raising even more alarm about the world's warming climate. More than 100 scientists spent the last three years looking at the impact of climate change on the Earth's oceans and the ice locked around the North and South Poles and in mountain areas. 

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips says the broad conclusion is that, basically, these vital stores of water on our planet can't take it any more, and the consequences for humanity are severe.

Until now, much of the Earth's warming has been absorbed by its oceans. But according to this report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tipping points are being reached where some of the more severe consequences of climate change can no longer be avoided.

Ice in Greenland and Antarctica, and in mountain glaciers around the world is continuing to melt at accelerating rates. The resulting sea level rise around the world already threatens coastal populations. In the worst case predictions, as many as a billion people could be affected.

As the world's oceans get deeper, they are also getting warmer, and warmer water means bigger, more violent storms reaching land masses.

The report says satellite data show "marine heatwaves (periods of extremely high ocean surface temperatures) have very likely doubled in frequency from 1982 to 2016 and that they have also become longer-lasting, more intense and more extensive."

And our fingerprints are all over that change, according to the scientists, who said "between 84% and 90% of marine heatwaves that occurred between 2006 and 2015 can be attributed to anthropogenic (human-caused) warming."

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It may sound like a doomsday scenario, but one of the authors of the report, Arizona climate scientist Ted Schuur, told CBS News the signs are already clear to see in the form of disasters, including major flooding events around the world.

"We are looking at the time that those events that happen once in a 100 years, happen once a year, and you can relate to something like that," he told Phillips. 

"Extreme sea level events, such as surges from tropical cyclones, that are currently historically rare (for example today's hundred-year event) will become common by 2100 under all emissions scenarios due to increasing global mean sea level rise," the report states. 2Under all future emissions scenarios, many low-lying megacities and small islands at almost all latitudes will experience such events annually by 2050."

Or as Schuur put it in plain terms: "Imagine you have a story that your grandfather told you, about the town flooding, but it was back 80 years ago. Well, imagine that happening every year."

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The report lists a cascade of potential negative effects, from more severe storms to droughts and declining fish stocks. 

And the more we continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the more catastrophic those effects may be. The authors of the report say humanity is in a race between the speed of climate change, and our capacity to react to it, and we're losing. 

It's no longer a question of if or when the consequences will hit us, the report warns, but how bad they will be.