Unpacking the IPCC climate report signalling “code red for humanity”
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Unpacking the IPCC climate report signalling “code red for humanity”

By Yoana Cholteeva 11 Aug 2021 (Last Updated August 23rd, 2021 13:10)

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its latest report that exposed the ways human activity is changing climate in unprecedented and somewhat irreversible ways.

Unpacking the IPCC climate report signalling “code red for humanity”
The report has predicted that the average global temperature is likely to rise by more than 1.5°C within the next two decades, going over the limit settled in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Source: William Bossen

The new IPCC report, compiled by 234 scientists from 64 countries across the world has shed light on the extreme heatwaves, flooding, and droughts resulting from unprecedented climate change rates over the past decade.

It warns that the rate of warming is likely to lead to more frequent and widespread extreme weather events that put humanity and nature at higher risk as such events have already been increasing across the planet.

The report has predicted that the average global temperature is likely to rise by more than 1.5°C within the next two decades, going over the limit settled in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

When it comes to the probability of negative consequences, as spotted by the BBC, the phrase “very likely” has appeared 42 times in the 40-odd pages of the report’s Summary for Policymakers, which in scientific terms indicates that it is 90-100% certain that something is real and it is going to take place.

The report is the first major review of the science of climate change since 2013 and its release comes less than three months before the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

The consequences of worsening climate change

As predicted by the report scenarios, human activity is on track to release enough carbon emissions to cause the planet to warm by 1.5°C by 2040, with the current trajectory of emissions even suggesting that this might happen closer to 2034.

The findings also emphasise that the past five years have been the hottest on record since the 1850s.

Nonetheless, the report, labelled as “a code red for humanity” by the UN chief, offers some hope that rising temperatures can still be stabilised if there are serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

UN Secretary General António Guterres said: “If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. I count on government leaders and all stakeholders to ensure COP26 is a success.”

When it comes to rising sea levels and the potential impacts of the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the report shows that the recent rate of sea-level rise has nearly tripled than that of 1901-1971.

As a result, even if we drastically reduce emissions and keep temperatures around 1.5°C by 2100, the waters will inevitably continue to rise for a long time into the future.

Considering the current rate of emissions, it is likely that the sea level will rise above the range considered “likely” by the report, going up to 2m by the end of this century and up to 5m by 2150.

A slow transition is not an option       

A few key report facts that have caught the attention of green shareholder group Follow This are that “to limit global warming, strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gases are necessary” as well as the notion that “unless there are immediate, rapid, large-scale reductions in greenhouse gases, limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C will be beyond reach.”

This directly clashes with the stance some oil and gas operators take while advocating for a slow transition, which Mark van Baal, founder of Follow This, argues could make fossil fuel companies lose all their climate credibility:

“Oil major CEOs who claim to be part of the solution must, yet again, draw only one conclusion from this report: that they must cut their emissions immediately and drastically, not just by 2050.

“They can only join the fight against climate change by radically shifting investments away from fossil fuels. There is no longer time for a slow transition, the report is clear: every tonne of CO2 adds to global warming.”

While a gradual transition may have been within reach when the IPCC was first established in 1988, years of doubt around the impact of climate change might add to the pressure for oil and gas companies to choose rapid decarbonisation, or “have a global market devastated by climate change,” van Baal adds.

The hurdles for renewable energy

As the IPCC report reinforced that major climate change would be irreversible without drastic reductions in carbon emissions, some experts are saying its findings do not come as a surprise: “The new IPCC report provides a summary of the best available science, although it contains no real surprises,” says Phil Thompson, CEO and managing director of clean energy company Balance Power.

“It does, however, confirm what we already know – that we must urgently shift the global economy to a low-carbon footing. The solutions will vary from country to country, but in the UK, land diversification to accommodate green energy projects such as solar and battery storage is, and will continue to be, absolutely integral if we are to tackle the climate emergency.”

When it comes to the different ways governments handle climate change findings, German energy policy writer, Klaus Stratmann says for business newspaper Handelsblatt that the German way has long focussed on spending billions on climate action without paying attention to the achieved effects, citing the “absurdly high subsidies for renewable energy technologies.” Stratmann has now warned that the German government might repeat the same mistake with its support for electric mobility.

“The motto ‘whatever the cost’ leads straight to disaster”, he says, arguing that it would be better and more beneficial for the government to instead put a CO2 price at the heart of all energy transition and climate change mitigation policies.

Criticism of the IPCC Report      

One disagreement that has arisen regarding the report seems to be the notion that it does not offer enough practical steps of how to overcome the challenges, with Howard Cox, founder of the campaigning group FairFuelUK saying that the report had “the ideal chance to show climate realism instead of paranoia.”

“As a popular campaigning group representing persecuted drivers across the nation, FairFuelUK wanted the emphasis of the IPCC’s angst and predictable scaremongering to focus on practical solutions. Where are they? They are simply calling for more funding,” Cox says.

“The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fair Fuel for UK Motorists and UK Hauliers released last week a ground-breaking report with seven recommendations to improve air quality without cliff edge fossil fuel bans. Nowhere in the IPCC report are constructive proposals like those.”

The campaign group has also taken the stance that while the UK is responsible for a low percentage of CO2 emissions, the government will seek to demonstrate excessive climate dedication ahead of the COP26 through “virtue signalling” policies. Major concerns relate to the fact that this can harm the more disadvantaged citizens and small businesses, which often rely on cheaper options like burning fuels to transport goods.

In the meantime, a new study by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has warned that uneven decarbonisation between various countries could foster international tensions in the coming years.

“Uneven transition patterns can exacerbate existing tensions in international climate negotiations while also triggering trade conflicts,” Andreas Goldthau, research group leader at IASS Potsdam explains.

In this connection, the study’s authors, research associate Laima Eicke and Goldthau note that additional research is needed to better understand the restrictions countries face in accessing renewable energy technologies. Provoked by this, they are already working on country-specific case studies.