Climate change is currently affecting all regions of the planet, and each additional degree will impact every area in multiple ways, today’s IPCC report reveals. It is human behaviour that is responsible for putting people and planet in this precarious position but the report makes clear that with strong, rapid and sustained reductions in emissions human influence can now slow, and even stop, some of the worst effects of climate change.
The report sets out ‘where we are’ and shows, through five emissions scenarios, ‘where we can go’. It explains that each additional fraction of warming caused by emissions will lead to new extremes that are unprecedented in magnitude, and that temperatures will continue rising until the middle of the century. What matters most now is that countries act immediately to achieve the lowest emissions scenario, which would allow the temperature to stabilise by 2050 at just under 2°C of warming above pre-industrial levels: close to the Paris Agreement target. Unfortunately all scenarios say the ‘preferred’ 1.5°C Paris target will be breached by 2040. However, if effective steps are taken right now, and net zero promises are delivered by 2050, the temperature could fall to 1.5°C, or below, by the end of the century.
Scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system – IPCC
On the current trajectory, though, the world will exceed 2°C of warming within 30 years, meaning ‘heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health’. The report’s interactive atlas reveals the regional consequences different temperature rises will have over the coming decades.
“The sci-fi movies depicting giant storms or weather events that threaten our very existence may one day seem less fictional: a 3.6 degree rise above pre-industrial levels, the IPCC warns, would precipitate an ‘extensive’ extinction of species across the globe, rendering much of the globe uninhabitable,” Mary Robinson wrote in her book, Climate Justice.
The high emissions scenarios would make life on this planet largely unliveable for humans – but overcoming the existential threat of climate change is still possible. What is not possible is continuing to add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere every year; by the middle of the century this number must drop to zero, or very close to zero.
Coordinated actions and policies are needed at all levels to ensure this generation grasps the opportunity to avert disaster. What is critical is to realise that a better future can be created if new structures and behaviours are adopted at scale. Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report should inform decision makers, particularly those in the world’s richest countries, of their duty to respond to the science with commitments that decisively put the world on a net zero pathway. The G20 countries, responsible for 80% of emissions, have an obvious responsibility to use their power to lead from the front during negotiations in Scotland.
The IPCC’s Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis report, was compiled by hundreds of scientists, from 66 countries, reviewing over 14000 studies, and responding to over 78,000 government comments. It was approved by delegates of all governments worldwide, and decision makers at COP26 in Glasgow this November must take the unique opportunity they have to reduce emissions, by going above and beyond with their new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as the Paris commitments are known. America, Japan and Canada all increased their NDCs earlier this year.
Glasgow is going to be a critical milestone for the future of the planet. What type of milestone it will look like to future generations depends on the ambition shown, and the subsequent actions that are taken.
Time has already been lost, and every additional half degree will increase the frequency of floods and droughts; while agriculture and human health will be severely hit. The recent and rapidly intensifying weather extremes everyone has seen, or experienced, would have been unlikely without human influence. It is the main driver of the increasing loss of food production resources; rising sea levels; and the negative decline in climate conditions that will continue in the decades to come.
If we rapidly decrease emissions we can still keep below 2°C – IPCC
There is no silver bullet solution, the world now needs collaboration and mobilisation on a scale never seen before. As inconsistent weather patterns increase, for example, early warning systems will be vital for farmers, especially in the Global South, where the effects of climate change are already devastating crops. It is one of the many technologies that will need to be rolled out quickly.
In his new book: How to Avoid A Climate Disaster, Bill Gates calls for technologies, policies, and markets to work together to achieve a net zero future.
“When we focus on all three things at once – technology, policies, and markets – we can encourage innovation, spark new companies, and get new products into the market fast,” writes Gates.
For the technologist and philanthropist an acceleration in the innovation cycle can be triggered by this approach, and by dramatically increasing investment levels in research and development, especially in clean energy technologies; the zero carbon cements and steels required to expand cities and communities; zero carbon fertilisers that can support the crops needed to feed a growing global population; advanced biofuels for powering economies; and the plant- and cell-based meat and dairy alternatives that can positively transform eating habits.
Serial explorer, Dr Bertrand Piccard, is showing leaders around the world the innovative solutions that already exist, the profitable ways to protect the planet that can accelerate the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while also providing the economic gains that policy makers controlling the levers of change demand.
Innovation, along with policy and regulatory changes, new mindsets, learning from indigenous knowledge, and fostering a new spirit of togetherness globally, are some of the steps that can help a truly resilient world emerge from this crisis.
The IPCC report is scary, and the chapter we are writing now presents possibly the last opportunity to change the plot – but crucially this is still in our hands. Leaders heading to Scotland in November must do all they can to provide the framework for delivering the potential this chapter has to be the turning point that secures a meaningful and thriving future for all.
In the midst of today’s dire headlines linked to the IPCC report, discover more about the opportunities offered by transitioning to a net zero world by catching up with Marc Buckley’s recent interview with Bertrand Piccard.