Last month, the leading scientists from the IPCC delivered their “final warning” on the climate crisis. Here’s everything you need to know about the AR6 Synthesis Report.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. They aim to provide governments with all the information they need to develop climate policies. The IPCC has no legislative power, so it is down to individual governments to implement policy as they see fit, informed by the panel’s findings.
The IPCC have been warning of the realities and risks posed by climate change since their first report was published in 1992. Since then, the warnings issued by the IPCC have become increasingly stark, as governments the world over have failed to give sufficient weight to the scale of the challenge posed by climate change.
The recently published “synthesis” report summarises the previous six papers produced as part of the Sixth Assessment Report and distils the scientific findings into clear guidance for policy makers. The message is clear — we must act decisively and immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or otherwise face irreversible damage to our planet.
Whilst the report does not sugar-coat the scale of the challenge, the overriding message is optimistic. There are “multiple, feasible and effective options to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change, and they are available now.”
The scale and seriousness of the challenge
The current rise in global temperatures since pre-industrial levels is 1.1°C. This is unequivocally caused by human emissions of greenhouse gasses.
The most significant commitment from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement is “to limit the temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” By limiting global warming to between 1.5 – 2°C, we reduce the likelihood of reaching some of the most severe and irreversible climate tipping points.
Whilst we have already passed the point of “safe” global warming, every fraction of a degree that we prevent increases the chance of mitigating the most disastrous potential impacts of climate change, hence why the goal of 1.5°C is so significant.
As things stand, human-caused global warming has already led to substantial damage to terrestrial, ocean and freshwater ecosystems, and the loss of hundreds of species.
Vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to climate change are today being disproportionately affected by increased extreme weather events, and reduced food and water security. As a result, global warming is hindering efforts to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
In all regions, increases in extreme heat events have resulted in human mortality and morbidity.
How well are we adapting?
The report states that “progress in adaptation planning and implementation has been observed across all sectors and regions, generating multiple benefits.”
Adaptation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in response to global warming ranges across every sector, from farming and urban planning to innovative scientific research reducing plastic waste and creating sustainable fuels.
Target setting and policy development are now commonplace at national and local level, focussed on mitigating the global effects of climate change. Climate literacy is also improving, as more people become aware of and educated about the problem.
Whilst this is welcome, we still have a very long way to go before patting ourselves on the back.
Back to reality
Limiting global warming to between 1.5 – 2°C involves rapid, deep and in most cases immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Current implemented policies are projected to lead to global warming of 3.2°C by 2100, and the carbon budget for 1.5°C will be exhausted by 2030 if we continue to emit at the current rate.
There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all. The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.
The current policies and pledges are inadequate. Developed countries must bring forward their commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions to “as close as possible to 2040” with emerging economies being urged to commit to net zero emissions as close as possible to 2050. China’s pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 is “highly insufficient”.
Why the report retains optimism
To put it simply, there is still some cause to be optimistic, because we already have the solutions.
Sufficient global finance is available, although it needs to be reallocated to prioritise a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We are limited only by politics, not by possibility.
Renewable energy technology is readily available and cost-effective. This must continue to be rolled out as quickly as possible worldwide to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.
Conservation of 30-50% of the earth’s land, ocean and fresh water will protect the world’s carbon sinks. We must prevent deforestation and continue to promote rewilding and biodiversity as much as possible.
Changes at an individual level, pursuing a more sustainable diet, reducing food waste and considering the climate impact of our choices also have a key role to play.
Ultimately, over the next decade, the climate needs to be at the heart of all governmental decision making, spanning across all sectors. There is no time left in the clock for delay.
As the UN Secretary General António Guterres puts it, we must accelerate climate action in “everything, everywhere, all at once”.