Among even the most informed citizens, there’s a widespread general belief that climate change is a problem, but not an immediate one. People are aware that the climate is changing, and that that can have consequences, but many shrug those concerns off, figuring they’re decades or even centuries away from becoming serious.

It’s now increasingly looking like that’s not the case. As The New York Times recently reported, the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change has come out with a major report on the global crisis we’re all facing. The group has concluded that if we as a planet don’t take major action, the world will start looking significantly different as early as 2040. That’s when the global temperature will have increased by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point we’ll all be facing greater risks of flooding coastlines, intensifying droughts and greater poverty.

“[The report] is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, who has authored past reports for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.”

It’s unclear whether anything can be done to prevent this impending crisis between now and 2040. The authors of the UN report estimated that avoiding the most serious damage would require transforming the world economy within just a few years; otherwise, the total damage caused by the climate crisis in the coming decades would be a staggering $54 trillion. They also expressed fear that the changes necessary to correct the global climate were politically unlikely, especially with a U.S. president in office who has mocked the idea of climate change and is committed to increasing fossil fuel consumption.

Serious changes are clearly needed. The UN report said that to prevent the ever-feared 2.7 degrees of global warming, greenhouse gas emissions must fall 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. Absent aggressive action, the UN cautions, that doesn’t look like it will happen.

“We need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen told the Times.

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