Expert Alert

UN climate change report

Source: Getty | ajansen

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change analyzed the academic research on climate science and gave an update on our understanding of climate change. Gabe Chan, an assistant professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, breaks down the findings of the report. 

Gabe Chan, Ph.D.
Human influence on climate change
“Compared to previous assessments, the most recent report concludes that the human influence in climate change events is now much clearer. The report finds that human influence has had an unequivocal warming effect on the earth's atmosphere, ocean and land, and that the scale of recent changes to the climate system are unprecedented in many centuries. The report also reflects significant scientific progress in "attribution science" — the probabilistic association of specific events, such as heatwaves, hurricanes, droughts, and flooding, to climate change.”

Greenhouse gas emissions
“The report significantly reduces the uncertainty we have in the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and global temperature change, among other impacts. As the scale and scope of the climate challenge reported on come into clearer view, one important dynamic to keep in mind is that greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, mix evenly in the atmosphere and last in the atmosphere for centuries. This means that actions to reduce emissions everywhere add up now and into the future. “

Future scenarios
“The report found that global targets for temperature change — agreed to by nearly all countries in the world in the 2015 Paris Agreement — will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.

“Significant action will be required to achieve these goals, including reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions over this timespan. When countries under the United Nations Framework Convention next meet in November 2021 at Glasgow, this United Nations report will surely be top of mind as countries seek to raise the ambition of global action to address climate change in the first significant step to revise country targets since 2015.”

What now?
“Addressing climate change will require participation from people all across the world, and engagement from the local to the global scale. The UN report emphasizes just how global and existential the climate challenge is — but it also emphasizes the global stakes of not taking action. So while feeling doom and gloom can be a very natural reaction to the information in this report, it also fills me with resolve to find ways to address climate change where we as individuals, as communities, and as organizations have agency and power.”

The IPCC climate change report is the first in a three-part series that will be released in the coming months. The next report, scheduled to be released in February 2022, will detail the impacts of climate change on human and natural systems, and the third report, scheduled to be released in March 2022, will detail mitigation pathways and strategies.

Gabe Chan is an assistant professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in the Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) area and a faculty associate of the Institute on the Environment. Chan's research examines policies to stimulate innovation in energy technologies and mitigate global climate change in the United States, China and internationally. 


Contact information
Gabe Chan
[email protected]
(612) 626-3292

About the Humphrey School of Public Affairs
The Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota is ranked as one of the country’s top 10 professional public policy and planning schools. The School is long noted for equipping students to play key roles in public life at the local, state, national and global levels and offers six distinctive master’s degrees, a doctoral degree, and six certificate programs. Learn more at