BANGKOK: The planet can avoid the worst impacts of climate change - and the means to do so are already known and within reach - according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released on Monday (Mar 20).
The IPCC’s synthesis report is a summary of five years of critical scientific research on climate change, bringing together the steepest challenges humanity is facing and the most likely solutions that are available.
While rising temperatures and weather extremes are already causing havoc across the globe - the planet is already 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels - experts made clear that action taken now will have impacts for thousands of years to come.
Some progress has been made already and the picture would be much bleaker without the collective actions thus far. But much more needs to be done and soon, the report’s authors said.
“This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all,” IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said in a statement.
WHAT IS THE SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT?
This report principally brings together the findings from three previously released sections by the IPCC, the body of the world’s leading climate scientists.
The first section focused on the physical science of climate change, including the causes and effects of temperature rise, weather system changes and regional effects.
The second part focused on climate impacts on nature and human activity, while the final paper addressed mitigation - ways to reduce carbon emissions.
There is no new science in the synthesis report. Rather, it takes some 10,000 pages of findings and shapes it into a more succinct 37-page recap. This summary will act as a scientific basis for policymakers and future climate action.
“The report does two big things - identifies increased reason for concern, because the evidence of climate change impacting the globe is rising, and it's very clear that it's human-caused,” Professor Mark Howden, review editor for the IPCC Synthesis Report and director of the Australian National University (ANU) Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions told CNA.
“But (it) also gives increased reason for hope. Because it documents much more effective approaches to climate adaptation and emission reduction, and gives us a much better understanding of what's needed to actually make those happen,” he said.
WHAT ARE THE KEY POINTS?
- Greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity have “unequivocally” caused climate change, and resulted in temperature rise across the globe. The harm has been caused unequally through unsustainable energy and land use.
- Climate change is already having major adverse impacts on weather systems, and in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere.
- Adaptation to climate change - the ability to withstand impacts - is already happening, but gaps exist and more finance is needed.
- Policies to mitigate climate change have expanded but what is on the table is unlikely to prevent global temperatures from rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century. There remain gaps between what has been promised and what has been enacted.
- Continued emissions will keep on increasing temperatures, and every increment of warming will further intensify hazards.
- A lot of the future changes are already locked in, but they can be limited with “deep, rapid and sustained global greenhouse gas emissions reduction”. Limiting warming will require net zero CO2 emissions and doing so would have positive effects on human health, ecosystems and air quality.
- All sectors and systems need to undergo fundamental changes to achieve the emissions cuts required. But “feasible, effective, and low-cost options for mitigation and adaptation are already available”.
- Finance, technology and international cooperation are all key. Enough global capital already exists to tackle the challenges but there are still barriers to directing it toward climate action.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN GOING FORWARD?
The report is yet another call from the global scientific community to governing bodies, corporations and other stakeholders to implement their promises and be more ambitious in the speed and range of climate action.
“What I'd like to see is us turning our greenhouse gas emissions around from record levels and increasing year after year to actually starting to decrease,” Prof Howden of ANU said.
“And that will require, among other things, a very significant ramping up of policy activity. The benefits from keeping temperatures down to two degrees through reducing our greenhouse gas emissions far outweigh the costs of doing so,” he said.
This decade is a critical one for such action and the next IPCC report is not due until around 2030.
The next major UN climate meeting - COP28 - will be held in the United Arab Emirates in November. The synthesis report will carry the science that directs the negotiations in Dubai and much focus will be on tracking the progress of countries since the Paris Agreement in 2015.
COP 28’s president-designate, Dr Sultan Al Jaber said in a statement: “The international community must unite in promoting bold, ambitious, and practical solutions while prioritising inclusivity, enhanced accountability, and transparency. All stakeholders, particularly big industries must go further and faster to get the world back on track."
Last year, the International Energy Agency concluded that carbon emissions still rose by just under 1 per cent. Major polluting countries like China and the United States meanwhile continue to expand their fossil-fuel infrastructure.
The report emphasised that decarbonisation must accelerate at an even faster pace. Government investment going forward will need to balloon by three to six times current spending.
“We usually talk about different parts of the climate crisis separately - reducing emissions, adapting to save lives, or responding to losses and damages. This report acknowledges that we need to do everything at once, and it gives a roadmap for how we can achieve this,” Ms Erin Coughlan de Perez, a lead author of the synthesis report and climate change expert for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.
“That roadmap is not a simple one, where we just make a few minor changes and keep going with the status quo. Instead, it is a call to transformation - fundamentally altering society to achieve climate-resilient development. The window is closing, but the report also shows that it is not too late yet.”