The latest United Nations report on climate change doesn't sugarcoat its findings: Climate change is here, with catastrophic effects, and it is going to get worse. But that doesn't mean it's time to give up: The report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stresses that the planet will be a much better place both for wildlife and humans if future warming can be limited to a half-degree Celsius—0.9 degrees Fahrenheit—instead of the 1.8 degrees F, or 1 degree C, that governments have agreed to work toward, the AP reports. The world is already 1 degree Celsius warmer than it was in pre-industrial times, and the report warns that there will have to be a massive decrease in carbon emissions by 2030 to have a chance of keeping total warming below 1.5 degrees C.
The report, prepared by the world's leading climate scientists, warns that there are only around 12 years left to keep the warming to the lower figure—but if it can be achieved, far fewer people will suffer from food scarcity and water shortages, the Guardian reports. The lower figure also leaves hope that the West Antarctic ice sheet will not enter irreversible melting and at least some of reefs like the Great Barrier Reef will survive. "For some people this is a life-or-death situation without a doubt," says lead author Natalie Mahowald, a Cornell University climate scientist. The panel warns, however, that limiting warming to the lower figure will require a "rapid and far-reaching" transformation of civilization, for which there is "no documented historic precedent," the Washington Post reports. (Read more climate change stories.)