The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Sixth Report in the midst of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Find out why the unfortunate timing has diverted attention from a growing global crisis.
We can’t say that nobody warned us. Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius discovered the fact that releasing C02 emissions into the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect back in 1896.
Scientists have raised the alarm about greenhouse gases ever since. As the evidence continued to build, the World Meterological Organization (WMO) created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) thirty-four years ago.
The IPCC is now in the process of releasing its sixth assessment report. They’ve come out every five years over the past three decades.
Must Be Enormously Frustrating to Serve on the IPCC
It must be enormously frustrating to have to serve on the IPCC. So far, virtually all of their warnings have fallen on deaf ears and,even today, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise instead of fall.
The timing of this new report has been particularly unfortunate. The IPCC released it in the midst of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Even the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had to devote time to condemning the invasion along with announcing the release of IPCC 6. When he did get the chance to talk about the new report, he called it “an atlas of human suffering” and said that it revealed “a criminal abdiction of leadership.”
Report Couldn’t Be Clearer in Its Findings
The report itself couldn’t be clearer in its findings. The Summary for Policy Makers concludes with this stark message.
“The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”
So, the climate crisis is real and it’s caused by human activity. Scientists couldn’t be sending a clearer or more urgent signal to policymakers throughout the world.
Litany of Climate Change Impacts Continues to Grow
The litany of climate change impacts continues to grow. The report indicates that we’re seeing more frequent and intense extreme weather events just about everywhere.
This is causing widespread damage to nature and to humanity. The damage is far greater than what scientists would expect from natural climate variability.
What’s worse, these severe storms and droughts harm the world’s most vulnerable people and ecosystems the most. Even though these communities have not enjoyed any of the benefits of industrial development, they’re bearing the brunt of its environmental cost.
Result of Historical and Ongoing Forms of Injustice
This is largely the result of historical and ongoing forms of injustice. This injustice stems from our long heritage of colonialism and authoritarian governance in the developing world.
The report estimates that between 3.3 and 3.6 billion people live in circumstances that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Many species are vulnerable to climate change and human vulternability is interdependent with ecosystems.
We’re continuing to follow development patterns that are not sustainable. This kind of ill-conceived development is increasing the exposure of ecosystems and human communities to climate hazards.
Importance of Capping Global Warming at 1.5˚ C
The report continues to emphasize the importance of capping global warming at 1.5˚ C. The panel warns that if global warming reaches that ceiling, we would see unavoidable increases in a range of climate hazards and face multiple risks to our society and to our ecosystems.
There are near-term actions that governments could take to limit warming and prevent most of these losses. Unfortunately, the actions taken so far have been far too little and much too late.
If we don’t take near-term mitigation and adaptation actions soon, our losses and damages will only escalate. Beyond the year 2040, the next generation of humanity will face vastly increased danger in 127 different risk categories that the IPCC examined.
The Longer We Delay, the More Complicated the Problem Will Become
The longer we delay, the more complicated the problem will become. We’re starting to see more than one adverse climate impact at the same time.
This compounds the risks and the damage these extreme weather events cause. It can lead to cascading effects where a vicious cycle arises leading to one natural disaster after another.
For example, if we overshoot the 1.5˚C ceiling, that will cause the release of even more greenhouse gases. Wildfires, deforestation, and the thawing of permafrost, for example, will weaken these natural carbon sinks and unleash the carbon they’ve been storing for centuries.
Progress Is Very Uneven with All Sorts of Gaps
Although the report acknowledges that some communities have made progress is adapting to climate change, it finds that progress is very uneven with all sort of development gaps. Too often, these projects deliver only short-term benefits as opposed to what the report calls “transformational adpatation.”
Since the IPCC released its fifth report, they’ve found that the amount of maladaptation observed has actually increased. These maladaptive approaches make vulnerabilities harder and more costly to address.
Addressing these challenges calls for what the panel calls “enabling conditions.” These include political commitment and follow-through, institutional frameworks, enhanced knowledge, financial resources, and proper governance.
Governments Need to Prioritize Risk Reduction
Governments and civil society need to prioritize risk reduction, equity and justice in their development decisions. The report also calls for interntational cooperation and for all levels of government to work closely with local communities.
Societies around the world are becoming more urban. This has created additional risks for communities, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Urban planners could view the shift toward urban living as an opportunity to switch to climate resilient development. It’s especially important for coastal cities and settlements to “get with the program” on sustainable development.
Conservation of Natural Habitats is Equally Important
Conservation of existing natural habitats is equally important. The report calls for the conservation of between 30% and 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas. Thios is a tall order given the rapid rates development into natural ecosystems we’re seeing around the world.
As for any climate deniers that may still be out there, the report sends them a clear message. “It is unequivocal that climate change has already disrupted human and natural systems.”
Yet, equivocation seems to be all we hear from our leaders. Even when their words are clear, their tangible results are not.
Scientists Have Done Their Part – It’s Up to the Public
The scientists have done their part, not only once but at least six times. It’s up to the public to demand immediate, sustainable climate action. The crisis in Ukraine is urgent, but the climate crisis is as relevant as ever.
Governments will only take climate action if the public demands it. Each of us needs to become a climate change activist. Otherwise, that “rapidly closing window of opportunity” will close on us and on our chidren’s future.
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
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