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We Are Past the Point of Asking Nicely: A Blog Post in Response to the Latest IPCC Report

11 Aug 2021

On the 9th of August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I released a report on the scientific basis of climate change entitled: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis1. This monumental report has triggered international outcry from climate activists who have been calling for political leaders to wake up and take substantial action to combat the climate crisis for years.

Valérie Masson-Delmotte, IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair, has called this report a ‘reality check’ that gives us an irrefutable understanding of the past, present, and future impacts of climate change[1].

Given the significance of this report, we’re going to break down what exactly the IPCC is, what the key findings of the report were, and what this means for the future of our planet.

 

What is the IPCC?

The IPCC is a body of the United Nations. It was established in 1988, and at present, the IPCC has a total of 195 Member Countries[2]. This group was set up to provide governments with steadfast scientific information on the climate crisis, the impacts it has on the environment, and the future implications and risks associated with climate change to allow for effective climate policy formation.

Thousands of people from all over the world contribute to the IPCC and countless scientists volunteer their time and expertise to develop the IPCC Assessment Reports. To date, the IPCC has produced 5 Assessment Reports[3] and it is currently in its Sixth Assessment Report cycle (AR6).

Three Working Groups contribute to the formation of the AR6[4]:

  • Working Group I: assesses the physical science of climate change.
  • Working Group II: determines the vulnerability of socio-economic and environmental systems to the impacts of climate change and evaluates climate change-related risks to facilitate the development of effective adaptation and mitigation strategies.
  • Working Group III: focuses on climate mitigation efforts to facilitate a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.

 

All three Working Groups contribute to the Synthesis Report, which will provide an overview of the most up-to-date understanding of climate science. The Synthesis Report is due to be completed and published in 2022.

The recently published report by Working Group I is the first part of the Sixth IPCC Assessment Report. This report was originally scheduled to be published in April 2021 but its publication was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic which pushed the Working Group sessions online[5].

 

What are the key findings of this report?

  • It is unequivocal that human activities have warmed our atmosphere, oceans, and land[6].
  • In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years[7].
  • Human-induced climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe[8].
  • Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades[9].
  • These temperature increases will intensify the frequency of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts, cyclones, and reduce Arctic sea ice and snow cover[10].
  • It is very likely that human activity is the main driver of increasing global sea levels[11].
  • To limit human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting global CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions[12].

 

What do we do now?

To say that the findings of this report are alarming would be the understatement of the century. It is clear that climate change is having detrimental effects on our planet and these impacts are ‘widespread, rapid and intensifying’[13]. From the recent wildfires in Greece, deadly heat waves in the US and Canada, to the devastating flooding in Germany, we can plainly see the consequences of our actions.

For our planet and climate system to undergo such extreme changes over a very short period of time is unprecedented. If we continue on this path, our environment, precious natural resources, and biodiversity will be devastated. Furthermore, the social justice and human rights implications of the climate catastrophe are unthinkable.

Huge reductions in current global emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gasses are essential if we want to slow the warming of our planet. Radical action on a global scale must be taken today, especially from the countries in the Global North. Governments cannot ignore the climate crisis any longer. Our lives and the lives of future generations are at stake.

Even though climate change has been on our radar for decades, our political leaders are failing us, time and time again. The upcoming global climate summit in Glasgow (known as COP26)[14] must deliver tangible results and countries must honour their climate obligations. We cannot afford to wait any longer and our politicians cannot continue to treat issues of climate change and sustainability like a photo op. Every fraction of a degree that global temperatures increase by will have brutal ramifications for our world. Therefore, every degree increase we prevent will save countless lives and circumvent human and environmental suffering.

The IPCC report states that human activity is responsible for this climate emergency. That is undeniable and it is our collective responsibility to combat the climate crisis. However, it is not the everyday individual who is the principal driver of climate change. Rather it is fossil fuel extraction and production, exploitative multinational companies, and our system as a whole that values profit and power over the environment and human life that is to blame[15].

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, paralysed by fear and anxiety, you’re not alone. Some may look at this harrowing report and resign themselves to a future where environmental degradation, extreme weather events, and the associated impacts on human health and well-being become the norm. I’m here to tell you that giving up is not an option.

Yes, the system is broken, and the grim reality that this report presents us is anxiety-inducing and demoralising. However, now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand. To do so would be a grave injustice to those who are already suffering because of global temperature increases caused by historic extraction, exploitation, and colonialism. It is our time to change things. This is our opportunity to demolish our corrupt system and rebuild our world to support sustainable development and protect vulnerable populations from the worst impacts of climate change.

This report is our call to arms as a society to rise up and fight for the future of our planet. We are past the point of asking nicely. We must demand change from ourselves, our communities, our leaders, and policy-makers. Take this opportunity to contact your Department Heads, your Students’ Union, and the President to urge UCC to increase its efforts in reducing its carbon emissions and environmental impacts. In addition to that, contact your political representatives and let them know that they are failing us, and for the good of the people of Ireland and further afield, we cannot continue to miss our critical greenhouse gas emissions targets[16].

Raise your voice for the future of our planet - the time to act is now.

 

References:

  1. IPCC, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis (2021) https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_Full_Report.pdf
  2. IPCC Press Release (9 August 2021) https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2021/08/IPCC_WGI-AR6-Press-Release_en.pdf
  3. See for full list of Member Countries: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/02/ipcc_members.pdf
  4. See previous IPCC reports https://www.ipcc.ch/reports/
  5. See for more information: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-cycle/
  6. IPCC Press Release (9 August 2021) https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2021/08/IPCC_WGI-AR6-Press-Release_en.pdf
  7. IPCC, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis (2021) A.1 https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_Full_Report.pdf
  8. Ibid, A.2.1.
  9. Ibid, A.3.5.
  10. Ibid, B.1.
  11. Ibid, B.2.
  12. Ibid,  A.1.7.
  13. Ibid, D.1.
  14. IPCC Press Release (9 August 2021) https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2021/08/IPCC_WGI-AR6-Press-Release_en.pdf
  15. See for more information: https://ukcop26.org
  16. See T. Riley, “Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says” The Guardian, (10 July 2017) https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change
  17. George Lee, “Ireland won’t meet 2020 greenhouse gas emissions targets - EPA” RTE (22 June 2021) https://www.rte.ie/news/environment/2021/0622/1229598-epa-report/

Bio:

Niamh Guiry is currently completing her Masters’ degree in Environmental and Natural Resources Law in UCC and has been an active member of Enviro Soc and Green Campus for the past three years.

Green Campus

University College Cork, College Road, Cork T12 YN60,

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