New U.N. Climate Report Warns of “Unprecedented Conditions” in the World’s Oceans by Midcentury

By: Katelyn Rauh

Ring the alarm: the climate clock is ticking much faster than most experts first thought. On Wednesday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) released a special report warning of “unprecedented conditions” in the world’s oceans due to climate change.[1]This release concludes a three-part series produced by the panel over the past two years, and it seems that the IPCC saved the most troubling report for last.

The report is the first to focus exclusively on water, and the main takeaway is that all humans—even those who live hundreds of miles from the shorelines—are in trouble if business as usual continues. 1.3 billion people will be directly affected by rising sea levels either because they live in low-line coastal areas or because their fresh water supply depends on melting glaciers. This includes people living in major cities like New York City, Tokyo, Jakarta, Mumbai, Shanghai, Lagos, and Cairo. If current warming scenarios continue, sea levels will rise three feet by the end of the century, and by 2050, storms that occurred once every century will occur once per year. The report estimates that flood losses in the 136 largest coastal cities could total $1 trillion by 2050.

Even those who live in inland parts of the world will be impacted by changes in the climate system. Melting glaciers will lead to worsening water shortages which will affect hydropower, farming, and drinking water supplies. As ocean oxygen levels decrease, ocean productivity does too. This means less nutrients will be available for marine plant growth which affects all species. These changes, along with ocean warming and acidification, will drastically reduce the number of fish. At the same time, seafood safety will be affected because humans will be exposed to higher levels of mercury in marine plants and animals.

Though the report paints a dire picture of the future, it also emphasizes that there is still time to mitigate the most severe consequences of climate change. The report calls for governments around the world to take urgent, ambitious, and coordinated measures to drastically reduce carbon emissions, protect the earth’s ecosystems, and carefully manage natural resources. Bottom line: the sooner we act, the easier, more effective, and less costly it will be.

Image from Stanford News

[1]Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, Summary for Policymakers, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(Sep. 25, 2019),


  1. Great post Katelyn! The IPCC report is certainly daunting, particularly the number of people and coastal cities that will be affected by rising tides. 2050 is no longer as far in the future as it once seemed.

  2. Great post! This report is definitely a daunting one, and you had a great insight on how inland areas will be just as affected by climate change. I think so many people think climate change only affects those on the coast, but your post and the report proves otherwise, and shows how we need to take action as soon as possible.

  3. Getting inland areas excited about climate change, especially sea level rise is not an easy task. Thank you for highlighting ways these communities could be impacted. 2050 is not very far away and we need everyone to act, not just people living on the coast. Spreading information about inland impacts is a good way to get the conversation started in hopes to get everyone involved.

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