The latest assessment of the climate crisis has been released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who are considered the world’s foremost scientific authority on the matter.
This report arrives at a crucial juncture, as governments are currently assessing their policies under the Paris Agreement that was approved in 2015. The report’s key message is that while there are still options available to ensure a sustainable and livable future, it is becoming increasingly challenging to achieve this, and time is running out.
The scientists conclude that rapid and ambitious changes are needed in all sectors and scales to achieve this goal. The report emphasizes that what we do between now and 2030 will have far-reaching consequences that will impact future generations.
The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report is based on analysing 743 scientists who reviewed numerous scientific publications to arrive at their shared and conclusive findings, which will be communicated directly to governments worldwide.
The report builds on the findings of the six previous reports and provides additional information and details.
Our conclusions, after studying the report, summarized in 10 key messages are the following:
The situation is bad and rapidly getting worse
- Climate change, caused by humanity, already affects the entire planet and is accelerating and intensifying.
- It’s worse than expected: The impacts and risks are getting worse all the time.
- It is profoundly unfair: The people who bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis are the ones who are being affected the most.
- The worst is yet to come: With the current policies, we are on the way to much higher risks than the current ones and irreversible losses.
Here are these 10 key points explained in more detail, keep reading!
Climate change worsens globally due to human activity
The effects on ecosystems are being experienced earlier, are more widespread, and have consequences of greater magnitude than previously estimated. Half of all species are already moving from their usual territories due to climate change.
There is more evidence that climate extremes such as heat waves, torrential rains, droughts and tropical cyclones are increasing, and also their attribution to human influence.
Climate risks worsening faster than anticipated
As global temperatures continue to rise, reaching 1.2°C would cause a high risk of ecosystem collapse, endangering various species such as sea ice-dependent animals and terrestrial wildlife.
The impact of extreme heat, flooding, tropical cyclones, wildfires, and sea level events would also worsen at 1.5°C. The risks associated with tipping points like ice sheet instability would rise between 1.5°C and 2.5°C.
By 1.9°C, approximately half of humanity may face life-threatening weather events due to extreme heat and humidity.
With temperatures reaching between 2°C and 3°C, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets would irreversibly vanish.
Climate crisis disproportionately affects those least responsible
The communities that have historically contributed the least to the climate crisis are the ones who are facing the most severe impacts.
High vulnerability to climate change is experienced by almost half of the world’s population, which amounts to around 3.3 to 3.6 billion people.
In the period between 2010 and 2020, regions with high vulnerability had 15 times higher mortality rates caused by floods, droughts, and storms than regions with very low vulnerability.
On the other hand, the households belonging to the wealthiest 10% of the population have been responsible for producing 45% of the global GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions caused by household consumption.
Global Emissions Unchanged, High Climate Risks ahead
Based on current policies as of the end of 2020, the world is headed towards a global mean warming of 3.2°C by the year 2100.
Even with the inclusion of recent climate measures presented at COP26 (which were not included in the IPCC report due to their recency), estimates suggest a slightly better outcome of mean warming at 2.8°C.
However, it is alarming that with the current policies, there is no expectation of a decline in global emissions before 2030, which falls significantly short of the Paris Agreement’s target of halving global emissions by the same year.
Paris Agreement Goal Still Achievable with Urgent Action
Current emissions are on track to cause short-term global warming of 1.5°C. However, the IPCC report suggests that the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal is still achievable through urgent action, which includes halving global emissions by 2030, reaching net zero CO2 emissions by around 2050, and achieving net negative CO2 emissions thereafter.
While limiting any exceedance of 1.5°C is crucial, even short periods of exceeding it can have irreversible impacts such as species loss and melting ice caps.
While carbon capture and storage (CCS) is necessary, it carries significant risk, so early decarbonization with minimal CCS reliance is recommended to decrease mitigation failure risk and increase intergenerational equity.
Make-or-Break Decade: All Solutions Available
The good news is that we have all the necessary tools to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, with half of this mitigation potential coming at a low cost or even with cost savings.
The main contributors to this goal will be solar and wind energy, the protection and restoration of forests and other ecosystems, climate-friendly food systems, and energy efficiency in various forms.
Moreover, demand reduction measures could reduce global GHG emissions by 40-70% compared to baseline scenarios by 2050. These measures involve decisions on how we use technology and resources to fulfill our food, shelter, mobility, and product needs.
One of the most promising measures, which also has great synergies with adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and human health, is the shift towards diets based on plant-based foods, known as “healthy and sustainable diets” by the IPCC reports.
Achieving the well-being of the entire population requires getting better services and benefits with fewer energy and resource consumption.
We are at a make-or-break decade where we need to take urgent action to curb the global temperature rise. However, the good news is that we have all the necessary solutions at our disposal. If we take necessary actions now, the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement is still achievable.
Halving global emissions by 2030, reaching net zero CO2 emissions by around 2050, and achieving and maintaining net negative CO2 (and other greenhouse gas emissions) worldwide, with annual rates of carbon capture and storage (CCS) exceeding the remaining CO2 emissions, are necessary steps in achieving this goal.
Urgent need for fast fossil fuel exit due to excessive infrastructure
According to a recent report, the existing infrastructure for fossil fuels is sufficient to exceed the 1.5°C warming limit if used without further restrictions. This means that there is no room for new fossil fuel infrastructure, and existing infrastructure must be phased out before the end of its useful life.
The report shows that around 80% of coal reserves, 50% of gas, and 30% of oil reserves cannot be burned or emitted if global warming is limited to 2°C. If the limit is set to 1.5°C, even more reserves must go unburned.
It is therefore clear that a transition away from fossil fuels is necessary, even if it is gradual. The speed of this transition depends on various assumptions, as outlined in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
To limit long-term warming to 1.5ºC with over a 50% probability, the report recommends reducing global coal use by 100% by 2050, along with reducing oil use by up to 90% and gas use by up to 85% compared to 2019 levels.
The fastest reductions are required in itineraries that avoid exceeding the 1.5ºC limit, with low impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity, high resource efficiency, and little reliance on carbon capture and storage. In such itineraries, the joint use of fossil fuels decreases by 85% by 2050 compared to 2020 levels.
Real-life application crucial for effective solutions, not just in models
As we enter a critical decade where global emissions must be halved while ensuring food security and protecting nature, solar and wind energy have advanced rapidly, with costs now matching or lower than those of fossil fuels.
However, carbon capture and storage (CCS) has not progressed at the same pace and faces technological, economic, institutional, environmental, and socio-cultural barriers.
Carbon dioxide removal technologies like direct air capture (DACCS) and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) are also limited in feasibility and sustainability, but it has not yet been applied on a large scale in real life. In its report on mitigation, the IPCC concluded that:
“The deployment and development of CCS technologies (with large-scale storage of captured CO2) have been much slower than anticipated in previous assessments.”
The implementation of CCS currently faces technological, economic, institutional, ecological-environmental and socio-cultural barriers
Therefore, we must look beyond simplistic models for carbon sequestration solutions that work with nature and for local populations, such as reforestation and carbon sequestration in agricultural soils, which can avoid conflicts with other land uses and prevent environmental impacts and human rights and food security problems.
Equity, Inclusion, and Financing Essential for Climate Action
The IPCC has emphasized that achieving equity and social justice is crucial for the scale and speed of transformation required to tackle climate change, both between and within countries.
The integration of climate action with macroeconomic policies can lead to sustainable development with low emissions, job creation, social protection measures, and improved access to financing for low-emission infrastructure, especially in developing regions.
However, funding remains a major issue for equity. Despite there being enough money in the world to make a real difference, the amount of funding for fossil fuels still exceeds that for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Vulnerable communities are struggling to access funds for mitigation and adaptation, while the oil and gas industry has gained a massive $4 trillion in the past year alone.
To meet the annual investment needed by 2030, which is three to six times current levels, both governments and financial institutions must align their objectives and policies with 1.5ºC and remove existing barriers.
Equitable solutions are needed at the international level to cover the needs of adaptation and mitigation and address the losses and damages suffered by societies with less responsibility in the climate crisis.
Call for transformational change across all sectors
Acting urgently and holistically is crucial to achieve climate resilience and sustainability goals, as opportunities to do so are rapidly shrinking.
This requires a transformative and inclusive approach that goes beyond individual technologies, sectors and actors, addressing both mitigation and adaptation. Protecting and restoring biodiversity is essential, as it sustains our own well-being.
The IPCC recommends conserving around 30-50% of Earth’s terrestrial, freshwater and ocean areas to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Strong laws, policies and international cooperation are necessary for rapid and far-reaching transitions. Governments, companies, investors, and those with higher incomes have a responsibility to lead the way towards a sustainable future.
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