Over the past 5 years, IPCC — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — has amassed more than 10,000 pages of scientific research, charts, graphs, footnotes, addenda, and analysis. Taken together, all that information conveys one simple message: the Earth is rapidly overheating to the point where life for humans and thousands of other species will soon become impossible.
Oh, sure, some species like cockroaches and rats may survive and new species may arise that are better able to live in hotter, drier conditions. But we the people will be dead and gone, largely because we have released several thousand years’ worth of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere in just over a century. The Earth simply can’t keep up with the changes those excess gases have created.
The IPCC Synthesis Report
In an effort to make their research more accessible to non-scientists, 93 contributors to IPCC have created a 37-page synthesis report written in plain language they hope will make it understandable to the larger human community. In a press release, the authors said,
“More than a century of burning fossil fuels as well as unequal and unsustainable energy and land use has led to global warming of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. This has resulted in more frequent and more intense extreme weather events that have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world. Every increment of warming results in rapidly escalating hazards. More intense heatwaves, heavier rainfall and other weather extremes further increase risks for human health and ecosystems.
“In every region, people are dying from extreme heat. Climate-driven food and water insecurity is expected to increase with increased warming. When the risks combine with other adverse events, such as pandemics or conflicts, they become even more difficult to manage.”
Bloomberg Green summarizes the report as follows:
- Greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity have unequivocally caused global warming, and emissions have continued to rise, with some countries and groups contributing far more than others.
- The world must cut greenhouse gas emissions to 60% below 2019 levels by 2035.
- “Widespread and rapid” changes to planetary systems have already taken place, their impacts disproportionately affecting the world’s at-risk populations. More than 3 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate change.
- Climate adaptation has advanced, but not enough. Current levels of funding are insufficient. Increased warming will make adaptation harder.
- Although policies to mitigate climate change have expanded, it’s likely that the world will exceed 1.5C of warming “in the near term” unless emissions peak before 2025. If the world overshoots 1.5C, that level could be brought down again by ending emissions and deploying carbon removal, which brings its own additional concerns.
- Climate-related risks are rising with every increment of warming. “Deep, rapid and sustained” emissions cuts can avoid some future changes, but not others.
Everything, Everywhere, All At Once
UN Secretary General António Gutteres said, “This report is a clarion call to massively fast track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every time frame. In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.” Guterres called on developed countries to accelerate their plans by moving their 2050 pledges to end emissions up to 2040. “The transition must cover the entire economy,” he said. “Partial pledges won’t cut it.”
Guterres also called for developed countries to phase out coal by 2030 and all other countries to do so by 2040. He asked there be no new licensing or funding of oil and gas projects, based on the findings of the International Energy Agency that all new oil and gas development must cease for the world to limit global heating to 1.5º C above pre-industrial levels.
There is sufficient global capital to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions if existing barriers are reduced, the synthesis report says. Increasing finance to climate investments is important to achieve global climate goals. Governments, through public funding and clear signals to investors, are key in reducing these barriers. Investors, central banks, and financial regulators can also play their part.
“There are tried and tested policy measures that can work to achieve deep emissions reductions and climate resilience if they are scaled up and applied more widely. Political commitment, coordinated policies, international cooperation, ecosystem stewardship and inclusive governance are all important for effective and equitable climate action.
“If technology, know-how and suitable policy measures are shared, and adequate finance is made available now, every community can reduce or avoid carbon intensive consumption. At the same time, with significant investment in adaptation, we can avert rising risks, especially for vulnerable groups and regions.
“Climate, ecosystems, and society are interconnected. Effective and equitable conservation of approximately 30 to 50% of the Earth’s land, freshwater, and oceans will help ensure a healthy planet. Urban areas offer a global scale opportunity for ambitious climate action that contributes to sustainable development.
“Changes in the food sector, electricity, transport, industry, buildings, and land-use can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, they can make it easier for people to lead low carbon lifestyles, which will also improve health and well being. A better understanding of the consequences of over-consumption can help people make more informed choices.”
IPCC Synthesis Report: It’s Not Too Late
Speaking to the press about the IPCC Synthesis Report, Simon Stiell, the UN’s top climate official, said. “We are in a critical decade for climate action. Global emissions need to be reduced by nearly 43% by 2030 for the world to achieve the Paris agreement’s goal to limit global temperature rise to 2º C and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5º C. The Synthesis Report highlights just how far off-track we are.”
He added, “It’s not too late. The IPCC clearly demonstrates that it is possible to limit global warming to 1.5º C with rapid and deep emissions reductions across all sectors of the global economy. It has given us many feasible, effective and low cost mitigation and adaptation options to scale up across sectors and countries.”
We know what to do. Tony Seba, Mark Jacobson, and Project Drawdown have given us road maps that show us precisely what has to happen in order to dramatically lower carbon and methane emissions. The problem is, nobody wants to do the heavy lifting required to put those tools into action.
The IPCC Synthesis Report says we need to increase funding for emissions reductions technologies by a factor of 3 to 6 times over what the nations of the world are doing today and planning to do in the future. It also says we need to keep our remaining fossil fuels in the ground. This at a time when China is planning to build a fleet of new coal fired thermal generating plants and the US is expanding oil production in Alaska and Utah by more than 300,000 barrels a day.
The 93 authors of the IPCC Synthesis report were at pains to convey the message that tackling global warming in a meaningful way is absolutely still possible. If we “act now,” said IPCC chair Hoesung Lee, we have the solutions “to secure a livable, sustainable future for all.” But we must act today, not tomorrow. And we must be guided by fairness. Almost half of the world’s population lives in places where “deaths from floods, drought, and storms [have been] 15 times higher” than elsewhere.
“Reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions primarily requires deep reductions in CO2, methane, and other GHG emissions, and implies net-negative CO2 emissions. Carbon dioxide removal will be necessary to achieve net-negative CO2 emissions,” the Synthesis Report says. Covering Climate Now, co-founded by Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation, said in an e-mail to CleanTechmica, the report means, “Zeroing out emissions is the first, second, and third order of business. But that will only stabilize the concentration of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere, currently at 420 parts per million. Remaining at that level would result in massive amounts of sea level rise in the coming centuries, so ways must be found to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.”
If the world takes bold action to slash carbon emissions, there is a chance we can manage global heating enough to save our species. If we don’t, the sun will set for the last time on the human race much sooner than anyone thought possible just a decade ago. The choice is ours, but based on the observable evidence, our nations are too focused on world domination, our corporations too blinded by greed, to do what must be done.
The IPCC authors are cautiously optimistic that we as a people will decide to act in the best interest of us all. If so, it will be the first time in history that has ever happened.
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