Nathan Street discusses the latest IPCC report on the severity of the climate crisis and the urgent need for fundamental political change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been producing its series of ‘sixth assessment reports’. With previous segments released in August 2021 and February 2022, the 3rd of 4 parts entitled ‘Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change’ was released in April, putting together findings from over 18,000 scientific papers. This report details policy, financial and technological changes needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Even in the titular word ‘mitigation’ (not prevention) concedes a failing that some effects of climate change can no longer or will not be prevented. The findings show we are not on pace to limit warming to 1.5°C, stating: ‘Unless there are immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, 1.5°C is beyond reach’.
This temperature is the cut-off point before a lot of consequences can become irreversible. It notes that from 2010-2019 the average annual greenhouse gas emissions have been at the highest levels ever. Another finding was that the impacts of warming, including from extreme weather events, would become more severe at lower temperatures than was feared in previous IPCC assessments.
The report details proposed solutions from area to area in terms of energy, land use, industry, buildings, urban areas, carbon dioxide removal, and transport. There are options to at least halve emissions by 2030, and the report tries to frame this in a sustainability or development context for policymakers.
These include phasing out coal, a six-fold increase in low-carbon investment, soil preservation and forest growth, reducing methane emissions and better use of new technologies such as hydrogen fuel and carbon capture. Even within this measured framework clearly the science is out in front of what the political establishment tend to be willing to implement, explaining delays in reductions to this point. Crucially it is that “lifestyle changes require systemic changes across all of society”, but it is this systemic change that is a primary roadblock.
Scientists, diplomats and politicians don’t mince their words in their condemnation of the lack of global action up to now, with phrases such as ‘pile of shame’, ‘paints a dire picture’, ‘emergency heading for disaster’, ‘now or never’ underlining the seriousness of the situation. Moreover, there is scepticism about whether action will match the severity on the current path.
The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has observed that ‘some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another. Simply put, they are lying’. The question then becomes, are how are we to force real action?
The IPCC press release ends with the statement: ‘The evidence is clear: The time for action is now’. The Chinese proverb regarding the best time to plant a tree seems to have some application: that the best time for action was many years ago, the second-best time is still now.
This, though, is going to take some dramatic political and economic change, and clearly it’s up to us to fight for it.
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