The third instalment of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report (AR6) has been released, with a final wake-up call for climate action.
“Human-induced climate change,” the report says, “is a consequence of more than a century of net GHG emissions from unsustainable energy use, land-use and land use change, lifestyle and patterns of consumption and production. Without urgent, effective and equitable mitigation actions, climate change increasingly threatens the health and livelihoods of people around the globe, ecosystem health and biodiversity.”
The report concedes that the chances of maintaining a global temperature rise to 1.5C are rapidly declining. As Damian Carrington explains in a Guardian article, emissions need to peak and begin falling by 2025. This short timeframe is the result of 34 years of political inaction on the climate crisis. However, the report says that we may be able to return to 1.5C if we surpass the target, through additional mitigation measures as the century progresses. To have a greater than 50% chance of staying within the 1.5C limit, the report says that global use of fossil fuels will need to decline by 2050 as follows (based on usage figures from 2019):
- Coal – 95% reduction
- Oil – 60% reduction
- Gas – 45% reduction
According to models of policies in place at the end of 2020, emissions will continue to rise, leading to around 3.2C of warming by 2100. However, the report cautions that if climate sensitivity is higher than we’ve estimated, the actual amount of warming could be higher than 4C. This is a civilisation collapsing level of warming, which would see vast swathes of the world becoming uninhabitable. And if we look at projected emissions solely from fossil fuel infrastructure that’s currently in operation or planned for operation, the emissions take us closer to 2C of warming and surpass the 1.5C target.
As such, we need to get off fossil fuels as quickly as is possible, if not quicker. The report outlines the benefits of removing fossil fuel subsidies, which amounted to $5.9 trillion in 2020, “Removing fossil fuel subsidies would reduce emissions, improve public revenue and macroeconomic performance, and yield other environmental and sustainable development benefits”. If subsidies were removed, they could result in a drop in CO2 emissions of 1-4% and an overall drop in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 10% by 2030.
The source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, can be broken down as follows (these figures are from the IPCC and I believe they exceed a total of 100% due to rounding):
- Energy supply sector – 34%
- Industry – 24%
- Agriculture, forestry and other land use – 22%
- Transport – 15%
- Buildings – 6%
Some positive news from the report showed that 18 countries have managed to sustain emission reductions for over 10 years. In addition, the decade from 2010 to 2019 saw falling costs of renewable energy and an increase in their usage. The costs of solar energy have fallen by 85%, and their deployment has increased tenfold. The cost of wind energy has fallen by 55%. The cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by 85% and usage of electric vehicles is up more than a hundredfold.
The report had been delayed due to disagreement over wording. Writing in the Guardian, Fiona Harvey says that this is one of the more contentious reports, due to the fact that it focuses on ways of addressing the climate crisis (including finance and policy changes). All 195 governments who are part of the UN have to sign-off on the key summary document, called the Summary for Policymakers. This is a summary of the main report and is where disagreement can arise, as delegates try to get wording changed to appease their government’s wishes. While the science won’t change, the wording in this report will reflect international government ambitions, or lack thereof.
The first instalment of AR6 released in August 2021, finally stated what scientists have been saying for many years, that it was unequivocal that humanity was responsible for driving the climate crisis. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, warned that the report signalled “code red for humanity”. Then in February 2022, the second instalment came out and showed that nearly everything is being affected by the climate crisis. Coral bleaching, wildfires, droughts, ocean acidification are just a few of the effects on the physical world. Meanwhile, people are experiencing physical and mental health issues, and these will only become magnified as the climate emergency worsens.
The third instalment released today rounds out the trilogy of warnings, with a fourth overall summary coming out in the Autumn ahead of COP27. It’s worth remembering that not only do our governments give the fossil fuel industry trillions of dollars in subsidies, but money can be found to tackle any major crisis that arises. For example in 2020, the G20 countries planned to inject over $5 trillion into the global economy as part of a rebound after the first round of COVID-19 lockdowns. The reason we haven’t seen climate action, is because our politicians aren’t treating the climate crisis like the emergency it is. And it is clear as the light of day, that only sustained pressure from each of us – the public, will unlock the global change we desperately need.
List of Reports in AR6 – The IPCCs 6th Assessment Cycle
I’ve covered each of the AR6 assessment cycle reports and my summaries are available here:
- Working Group I – The Physical Science Basis
- Working Group II – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
- Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change
- AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023
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