On Monday 9th August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched a scathing report on humanity’s failure to address the climate emergency. The report states that some changes are now irreversible and decries the global lack of urgency in reducing carbon emissions.
Humans are responsible for altering the stable climate in which we have evolved, to the point where extreme weather such as intense rainfall, flooding, prolonged droughts, oppressive heatwaves and relentless wildfires become the new normal.
“It is unequivocal,” the report begins, “that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.” The report analysed 14,000 publications and confirms that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions which are driving the climate crisis, are “unequivocally” a result of anthropogenic activities.
The IPCC, which has previously been criticised for being too conservative, pulled few punches in the sixth assessment report. It labelled humanity’s influence on the climate as being “unprecedented” in regards to the rate that warming has occurred, with no comparison over at least the past 2,000 years. Impacts such as sea level rise are now locked in, due to the melting of ice sheets and deep ocean warming, meaning that for the coming few millennia, societies will have to adapt or relocate away from coastal regions.
The target agreed at the 2015 climate change conference in Paris, involved limiting global average temperature rises to 1.5°C. This seems unlikely to be met now. The report shows that this target could be exceeded within the next 20 years. If we fail to reduce emissions rapidly enough, things could worsen and we may not be able to prevent global average temperature rises of 2°C or more.
For this reason the UN secretary general, António Guterres, is quoted in the Guardian saying this is “Code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”
UN Climate Change issued a statement saying, “This assessment of the latest science is a severe warning regarding the well-being of human society and all life on Earth. It is testimony to the fact that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the past decades have been wholly insufficient.”
In the firing line in many minds are politicians who have squandered the opportunity to act on the climate crisis, since it gained global attention in 1988. In the intervening 33 years, heads of state and policymakers have met almost on an annual basis for the COP (Conference of the Parties) climate change summits. However, during that time they’ve failed to bring the crisis under control.
A small spring of hope still remains. If world leaders implement urgent transformative policies to reduce global greenhouse emissions and draw carbon from the atmosphere, we may stand a chance of limiting the severity of future climate impacts, as well as future warming. World leaders have such an opportunity coming up at the COP26 climate conference, taking place in Glasgow in November 2021.
Given the length of time it takes the IPCC to produce these comprehensive reports which run to thousands of pages, it’s likely this will be the last IPCC report issued while we still have a chance, albeit small, of limiting a global temperature rise to 1.5°C. As Damian Carrington writes in the Guardian, “The IPCC’s report means all the evidence that will ever be needed is now in place.” To ignore that evidence and to fail to act decisively at this pivotal moment will have repercussions that will echo down through every generation.
Solutions include adopting a global green new deal, and living within the Doughnut Economics model proposed by Kate Raworth. Such a model ensures we live within boundaries that maintain social and environmental wellbeing.
So let’s be clear. The science is sound. The jeopardy of inaction is clear. The longer we wait to rapidly reduce emissions locks in more warming, more tragedy and more suffering. Yet it’s within our grasp to build the future we deserve, and avoid the hellhole our politicians have steered us towards for over three decades. It will take courage, it will take perseverance and it will take all of us to win this fight. So let’s unite at this defining moment, because together we can achieve anything.
Ryan is the author of the ‘Time to Care’ series of children’s picture books, and a freelance writer. His articles appear in The Independent, The Bookseller, Africa Geographic, the Thomson Reuters Foundation and many other outlets. He holds a First Class Bachelor of Science degree in Climate Change from Coventry University, and a Distinction in an MA in Creative Writing (via Distance Learning) from Teesside University. He was named as an ‘Environmental Changemaker’ in the 2018 UN Young Champions of the Earth competition.