This week saw the release of the very latest IPCC report on climate change, which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described as “…a clarion call to massively fast track climate efforts by every country and every sector, and on every timeframe.” This Synthesis Report (AR6), pulling together everything the scientific community agree on, has reinforced much that we already knew and stated ever more strongly the severity of the issue and the urgency in which we need to respond.
Yet again, but more forcefully than ever, it informs us that climate change is “unequivocally caused by human emissions” and that it is “a threat to human well-being and planetary health.” It told us that in the decade since 2011 we have already seen at least a 1.1C rise on pre-industrial levels, and we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, people are already dying and these impacts will get worse with every 0.1 of a degree centigrade that it increases. Already about 40-50% the global population is vulnerable. It confirmed that if this decade’s average emissions are on the same level as those of 2019, we will likely exceed the ‘carbon budget’ for 1.5C by 2030.
It also reiterated that the “10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute 34-45% of global consumption-based household GHG emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute only 13-15%”. That “rapid and far-reaching transitions across all sectors and systems are necessary to achieve deep and sustained emissions reductions and secure a liveable and sustainable future for all” and that action on climate change is critical to other sustainable development goals. The report explains that prioritising equity, social justice and just transition processes “can enable adaptation” and ambition, and that co-ordination is essential across sectors and at every geographical level. However there were three particular elements which stood out for me.
The first was that the key barriers identified by the report to action are “…limited resources, lack of private sector and citizen engagement, …low climate literacy, lack of political commitment, limited research and/or slow and low uptake of adaptation science, and low sense of urgency.”
A lack of shared understanding of solutions remains a critical barrier to accelerated action. How is it that a topic of such importance is still so widely misunderstood or often barely acknowledged? This is an ever more urgent reinforcement of the relevance of the climate solutions course we have been offering over the past 3 years, but it starts to beg the question about how we can make it more universal and even mandatory?
The second observation which stood out was the importance, and yet severe lack, of finance for this transition, for its research, its implementation, for action and innovation. Again the Synthesis report (AR6) labours this point : “…both adaptation and mitigation financing would need to increase many fold”. If we are not careful our legacy is going to be one of ‘sorry, we spent all of our money on other priorities and forgot to tackle the climate emergency when we could.’ Difficult though it may seem, it is imperative that we do find the necessary funds to enact change – both the Stern report and the UKCCC guidance pointed at around 2% GDP. But if we choose to ignore this, they both also remind us that its impacts could cost us 20% of GDP. Surely we can’t be so short sighted as to ignore these salient economic warnings?
Also, hidden away in the depths of the report, is the fact that we are highly likely to see a level of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels in the near future, and that “the level of greenhouse gas emission reductions this decade largely determine whether warming can be limited to 1.5°C or 2°C.“
This underlines the need for urgent action, especially as 2030 (and the relevant targets) draws ever closer. We believe that funding this transition substantially and fully is vital and this requires a real commitment to investment across work programmes and setting of clear signals and objectives by government. This is essential to reassure private investment and drive appropriate innovation, but it isn’t going to happen unless people ask for it from their leaders, and unless our political and business leaders respond.
Here is yet another warning from the global scientific community, which has been trying to sound this alarm ever more loudly, for most of the last forty years. We are making progress but nowhere near enough. We need more finance. We need more education. We need more people to demand better. And we need more action. Are we going to heed it this time? Time, or the lack of it, will only tell.