A UN Report released this week contained even more dismal news about the climate crisis. Find out why the UN chief responded by saying, “It’s time to end the relentless — and senseless — war on nature.”
I’ve been hearing about the need for urgent climate action throughout my adult life. I was already established in my career back in the 1980s, when the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Like everything at the UN, the IPCC is an organization of member countries. It’s an association, and like all associations, its success depends on the commitment and involvement of its members.
The IPCC has just released what it calls the Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) . This AR6 Synthesis is the latest summary of what we know about climate change, its affects, its risks and how to prepare for them.
As Always, UN Report is Dismal
As always, the news in the UN report is dismal. First of all, if anyone still had any doubts, the report lets us know that, “Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming.”
That was never in question, even though we’ve seen a determined effort over the last three decades to challenge the established science. As a result of those efforts, greenhouse gases are still increasing in the Earth’s atmosphere.
What’s more, “Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health.” If we want a “liveable and sustainable future for all,” time is running out.
Faster than any 50-Year Period in Last 2,000 Years
Global surface temperature has now risen 1.1˚ C above historical levels. Temperatures have risen faster since 1970 than in any 50-year period in the last 2,000 years.
The ceiling for temperature increases is supposed to be 1.5˚ C, and we’re not going to make it. In fact, we’re going the wrong way.
As a result, we’re experiencing what the UN report calls “widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere.” Climate change causes extreme weather, damaging ecosystems and urban areas.
Crisis Already Deprived Millions of Food and Water
The climate crisis has already deprived millions of people of food and water. The people suffering the most live in vulnerable communities that aren’t responsible for the emissions that cause the crisis.
Although countries are adapting to the climate crisis, the UN report finds the efforts are piecemeal and uneven. There’s a huge gap between what governments are doing and what they need to do, and that gap is also getting worse instead of better.
Based on the policies and laws currently on the books, the UN report says we’re going to miss the 1.5˚ C target. In fact, it’s going to be very difficult to keep the warming below 2˚ C.
Missing Targets Will Make Climate Crisis Even Worse
Missing those targets will make the climate crisis even worse. Also, the risks and adverse events will amplify each other even more than they do now.
That means the crisis will become more complex and harder to manage. For example, as the UN report explains, climate change causes food instability, which leads to competition for land use, which creates conflict, causing wars, resulting in more food instability and more carbon emissions, and so on.
We’re already at a point where some of the adverse climate changes can’t be avoided or reversed. The longer we procrastinate, the more likely we are to experience sudden, irreversible and extreme damage.
Limit to How Much We Can Adapt
Steps we could take now to adapt to climate change won’t be feasible or effective if we wait much longer. There are limits to how much we can adapt, and once we’re beyond them, losses and damage will be unavoidable.
Once again, the most vulnerable populations, who haven’t contributed to the crisis, will suffer the most. Ecosystems also have adaptation limits, and once the crisis exceeds those limits, measures to protect them won’t work anymore.
There’s a way out of all this. The UN report repeated the same message we’ve been hearing for decades, “Limiting human-caused global warming requires net-zero C02 emissions.”
Rapid, Deep and Immediate Greenhouse Gas Reductions
The panel reviewed a range of models depicting pathways out of the crisis. The UN report found that all answers ”involve rapid and deep and, in most cases, immediate greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors this decade.”
It’s not that we don’t know how to adapt to climate change and mitigate the damage. We already have practical, affordable and effective ways to do that right now, according to the UN report.
What we don’t seem to have is governments with the political will to do what needs to be done. Above all, leaders need to spend a lot more money on adaptation and mitigation.
Governments Must Eliminate Financial and Technical Barriers
The UN report finds that there’s enough global capital to cover the required investment, but governments need to eliminate financial barriers. They also need to encourage the widespread adoption and sharing of green technologies and practices, especially between developed and developing countries.
We got ourselves into this mess, and we can get ourselves out. Even so, we’re not going to escape the consequences of our own actions by doing nothing.
And Another Thing…
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called yet again for a radical shift away from fossil fuels in humanity’s energy and transportation systems. He also called for developed countries to share the financial and technical burden of mitigation and adaptation.
The UN chief concluded, saying, “It’s time to end the relentless — and senseless — war on nature, and deliver the sustainable future that our climate needs, and our children and grandchildren deserve.”
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
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