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IPCC 6 report
IPCC 6, image credit: IPCC

Climate Change

IPCC 6 Shows A “Criminal Abdication Of Leadership,” Says UN Secretary General

The latest IPCC 6 report is out. It isn’t good news.

The latest IPCC 6 report is 3500 pages long, so you might want to grab a beverage before you begin reading it. Here are some of the news reports and reactions to the report from around the world about the 5 alarm emergency bearing down — not tomorrow, not next week, and not next year. Today.

Bloomberg Green reports that UN Secretary General António Guterres had this to say about the report. “With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.” He calls it “an atlas of human suffering” and an indictment of a “criminal abdication of leadership.”

Michael Bloomberg is Guterras’ hand-picked Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions. In an email to CleanTechnica, he says, “The IPCC’s new report paints a devastating picture of the suffering and disruption that climate change is already causing for growing numbers of people around the world — and the growing costs we’re already paying for years of inaction and denial. It should cause leaders in the public and private sectors to take a hard look at what they’re doing right now to solve the problem and to protect the people and businesses they’re responsible for — and it will help the public to hold leaders’ feet to the wildfires. That means setting ambitious goals for cutting emissions in the next few years — not decades down the line — and backing up words with action.”

Pay Now Or Pay Much More Later

Remember how a certain disgraced former president said the costs of fighting climate change were too high? “What I’m not willing to do is sacrifice the economic well being of our country for something that nobody really knows,” he said when the latest National Climate Assessment was released.

In fact, doing nothing or next to nothing — which is the default response among most world governments today — will be much more expensive than doing something today. Patrick Verkooijen, head of the Global Center on Adaptation, estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa will require agriculture and food system adaptation that costs $15 billion a year. But damage from not adapting to worsening conditions there could run more than $200 billion a year, reports Bloomberg Green.

Climate Justice

Where is that money going to come from? “Nowhere” is probably the right answer. The world’s wealthiest countries have promised $100 billion to help poorer countries adapt to a warming planet, but those pledges have not been met and probably won’t be. The report warns the impact of a hotter planet will fall more heavily on the poorer nations and even on poorer communities within nations.

Questions of injustice and inequality are prominent in the report, with particular focus on people disadvantaged by what the IPCC report describes as “historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, especially for many Indigenous Peoples and local communities.”

In America, for example, pollution and heat stress fall most heavily on lower income neighborhoods, communities of color, and Indigenous people. Reactionaries may get apoplectic at the mention of “critical race theory,” but the data shows structural racism is alive and well in the United Plantations of America and ignoring it will not diminish the damage it does.

“It may sound hyperbolic to you but my take is that for many vulnerable countries, it is now adapt or die,” says Verkooijen. “The time for large scale investments in adaptation is absolutely now. Rich countries can no longer leave the most vulnerable nations out to dry.” But they will, because ignorant political leaders will always kowtow to their campaign contributors rather than doing what they are suppose to do, which is govern in a way the protects all their constituents, not just the most wealthy ones.

Here & Now

Here are some of the findings in this latest report:

  • The effects of melting glaciers and thawing permafrost in some areas are “approaching irreversibility.”
  • Half the world is already living with “severe water scarcity” during part of the year.
  • A worldwide rise in heat-related illness and death, with more food-borne and infectious disease, can be expected without adaptation.
  • Agricultural productivity growth has slowed, and weather extremes have put millions of people’s food security at risk.
  • In land ecosystems, as many as 14% of animal species studied will likely face a “very high” risk of extinction at a warming level of 1.5°C.
  • Choices made in the next decade will determine how much hardship we can avoid. Warming beyond that level “would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards,” the authors write. Clawing temperatures back down after passing 1.5°C — an extremely difficult l task — would still leave potentially irreversible damage.

“We are so used to talking of climate change in the future tense,” said Aditi Mukherji, principal researcher at the International Water Management Institute and co-chief author of the IPCC’s chapter on water. “All of us need to stop talking of climate change in a future tense. You have to say climate change has happened.”

“The whole idea that this is a distant issue in space or time or relevance? This report shoots that right down,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe tells Bloomberg. “It is right here, wherever you live. It is right now, not in the future, and it is affecting every aspect of our lives.”

Finance, business and trade enriched the industrialized world and continue to lift millions from poverty. But without transformation at a scale never before seen, the engines of economic growth will also drive ever-more dangerous global heating, eroding many decades of gains. The scientists are newly confident that an increase of more than 1.5°C would undercut the potential for many kinds of successful adaptation, and open up a new world of risk for every fraction of a degree beyond it.

[Note: it is hard to sell things and make a profit if most of your customers are dead or impoverished. How do business leaders not see it is in their own best interest to promote a sustainable and vibrant economy that creates as many customers as possible? Is it ignorance? Stupidity? Or just an ingrained lack of caring about people that stems from having a bunch of zeros after the first digit in your bank account? “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community,” said Andrew Carnegie. There is precious little of that thinking evident in the behavior of corporate and tech tycoons these days.]

To avoid what the IPCC report calls “cascading and compounding” damages to human and natural systems, the world must move from sluggish, piecemeal adaptation measures to a sweeping program of anticipatory, resilient planning and development. This requires cooperation across sectors of society and at every level of governance — and very quickly, before the world exceeds temperature limits.

Overshoot

Scientists have a word that describes what happens if nations miss their pollution limits and the world heats up past 1.5°C — overshoot. Implicit in this idea is that by using nature or technology to draw down greenhouse gas levels, people can return the temperature back below the limit. The new IPCC report warns even if nations are able to do that, there will still be “additional severe risks,” some of which are “irreversible” compared to scenarios without overshoot. This fact informs the physical limitation to climate adaptation and shapes the IPCC’s guidance to reduce emissions as quickly as possible. Cuts today are much more valuable than the same cuts in five or 10 years.

Easy Things Are Hard

It is easy to address global warming. Stop extracting, transporting, refining, and burning fossil fuels. They are a death sentence for humanity. But transitioning to renewable energy will be hard. This would be a good time for America to recall the words of John F. Kennedy when he announced the Ap0llo space program. We do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

When António Guterres speaks of a “criminal abdication of leadership,” he is leveling an indictment against Mitch McConnell, Joe Manchin, and Krysten Sinema, who sell their votes to the highest bidder, Vladimir Putin, and other mealymouthed politicians like Boris Johnson, who fight climate change with platitudes instead of action. Humans are busy promoting tribes rather than working together to confront a common threat.

This is not going to end well. We have already lost the battle and are accelerating our demise. Hatred of the other will seal our fate. So much promise squandered in the name of power and greed. It reminds me of the refrain from a song that was popular many decades ago: “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” The answer, to a high degree of certainty, is “Never.”

The ever optimistic Bill McKibben would disagree with me. Hear what he has to say in the timely video below.

 

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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