Time running out to defuse climate “time bomb”

  • Author(s): UNEP

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“If there is one key takeaway from this synthesis report – for nations, businesses, investors, and every individual who contributes to climate change – it is this: we must move from climate procrastination to climate activation. And we must do it today.” – UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen

Humanity has the money and technology it needs to slash its greenhouse gas emissions but must act now to avert a full-blown climate catastrophe, warns a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations.

The Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report is the final instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report and condenses nearly a decade of climate science into a 37-page document.

It said the world is already 1.1°C warmer than it was in pre-industrial times, and that “deep, rapid and sustained mitigation and adaptation actions” are needed this decade in order to stave off the worst of climate change.

The report lays out the devastating effects of a world in the grips of a full-blown climate crisis, including extreme heat, torrential rains, hunger and water shortages. This pain would be felt by the most vulnerable, it warned.

The report is expected to guide negotiations at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai later this year and at the Global Stocktake, where countries will review progress towards the Paris Agreement goals.

It is, in the words of the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, “a how-to guide to defuse the climate time-bomb; a survival guide for humanity.”

IPCC Chair
IPCC Chairman Hoesung Lee says transformational changes are needed to save the world from catastrophic climate change.

Photo Credit: AFP

While it painted a dire picture of inaction, the report said the world has the solutions it needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Many are already being implemented, although not at the scale required, it says.

Systemic change needs to happen across all sectors of the economy, the report says. That’s especially true of the energy industry, which will need to dramatically scale back its reliance on fossil fuels while using carbon capture and storage for emissions that are unavoidable.

Wind, solar and small-scale hydropower plants can increase energy reliability and reduce vulnerabilities to climate change, the report makes clear. The transport sector needs to embrace sustainable biofuels and low-emissions hydrogen, although cost-reductions will be needed. Electric cars powered by low-emission electricity can help reduce emissions, while advances in battery technology could help facilitate electrification of trains and heavy-duty trucks.

The report also called on cities to weave cycling and walking into their development plans and ensure that buildings are constructed and retrofitted in a way that reduces energy consumption.

“As the report lays out, there are multiple options for policymakers to tackle the crisis,” says Maarten Kappelle, Head of Scientific Thematic Assessments at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “Climate-resilient development, such as improving access to clean energy and technologies, low-carbon electrification and public transport is vital.”

The IPCC report also highlights the fact that maintaining the resilience of biodiversity and ecosystem services at a global scale depends on effective and equitable conservation of approximately 30 per cent to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas.

Finance will be key to this, but right now, the report says, “finance flows fall short of the levels needed to meet climate goals across all sectors and regions.”

The report also highlights the importance of safeguarding developing-world communities grappling with the fallout from the climate crisis, including floods, droughts and rising seas.

“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” says Aditi Mukherji, one of the 93 authors of the synthesis report.

While the report didn’t contain any revelations, it cast a spotlight on the pressing nature of the climate crisis. In order to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5°C or less, the most ambitious goal of the Paris climate change agreement, the world will need to cut its emissions of planet-warming gasses by 45 per cent by decade’s end.

“This report is pretty much as expected,” says Kappelle. “We know that we are running out of time to achieve the 1.5°C goal, and this report makes it clear how much we need to do to have a chance of getting close to that target.”

The IPCC is the leading authority on the science of climate change, and its reports are used as roadmaps by governments to reduce emissions and tackle the climate crisis.

The summary report can be seen as a guide for the next decade, consolidating the conclusions of the six documents published by the IPCC since 2015. With the next IPCC report not due until 2030, this is seen as the last chance to galvanize action on climate change.

 A fire truck plows through floodwaters
The world will need to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent within the decade to meet the most ambitious goals of the Paris climate change agreement.

Photo Credit: DPA/Federico Gambarini

“The report highlights the fact that political commitment and international cooperation is key,” Kappelle says. “No one sector or country can do this alone. There needs to be real cooperation at every level.”

It was a sentiment echoed by IPCC Chairman Hoesung Lee.
“Transformational changes are more likely to succeed where there is trust, where everyone works together to prioritise risk reduction, and where benefits and burdens are shared equitably.”

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