This week the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released their 6th landmark report on climate change, its causes, potential impacts and response options.
The picture it paints of our future is one that should make everyone sit up and take notice as things are exactly as precarious as we thought. Many of the forecasts from the IPCC Report in 2013 appear to have been accurate so this new report is righty being picked up and spoken about by every news outlet and nearly every social media account out there.
So how alarmed do we actually need to be, what does this new report say, and who exactly are the IPCC?
Human influence has unequivocally warmed the planet to an unprecedented state and is affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.
The attribution to human influence on extreme climate events such as heatwaves, flooding from excess rainfall and droughts has strengthened since the previous report released 7 years ago.
The increase of the planet’s temperature has already resulted in “irreversible” changes to ocean temperature and acidification, and to global ice sheet coverage.
Well, the report outlines 5 different possible scenarios we may face depending on the urgency which we act to slow the temperature rise. These 5 broad narratives, called SSPs (Shared Socio-economic Pathways), span “a wide range of plausible societal and climatic futures from potentially below 1.5C best-estimate warming to over 4C warming by 2100.”
In all scenarios, the global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least 2050 and unless there are deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century.
So while the worst case scenario (SSP5-8.5), which is based on no additional climate policy or action taking place, paints a very bleak picture, the best case scenarios offer hope and give us a chance to see out the century without a completely disastrous rise in global temperatures.
Either way, we are likely to see that more excessive weather events keep happening and the water levels continue to rise – how long it takes us to slow these events will depend on how quickly we reach at least net zero CO2 emissions.
The recently published report is the 6th of its kind released by the IPCC, who have been releasing reports like this roughly every 7 years. This specific report deals with Working Group I’s findings on the physical science basis of climate change, with Working Group II and III to follow up with their findings next year.
The report is nearly 4000 pages, prepared by over 230 authors from 66 countries who have spent the last 3 years reviewing over 14000 studies. There is a lot to read there so a 41 page ‘Summary for Policymakers’ (SPM), approved line by line from almost every government in the world, was released as part of the report.
“This SPM provides a high-level summary of the understanding of the current state of the climate, including how it is changing and the role of human influence, the state of knowledge about possible climate futures, climate information relevant to regions and sectors, and limiting human-induced climate change.”
The IPCC is a collective of the world’s leading climate experts. Formed in 1988 they have been given the responsibility of producing comprehensive reports on the state of our climate, how and why it is changing and what the potential outcomes for the planet are based on the actions we take.
The IPCC is divided into 3 working groups and a task force with each focusing on a different aspect of climate change. Working Group I deals with The Physical Science Basis of Climate Change, Working Group II with Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability and Working Group III with Mitigation of Climate Change. The Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories is charged with developing and refining a methodology for the calculation and reporting of national greenhouse gas emissions and removals.
The media appear to have largely focussed their attention to the worst case scenarios, giving a stark warning and wake up call to their readers about the ‘code red for humanity’ and how the ‘Earth is warmer than it has been for a 125000 years’. Perhaps, however, there is a better way to engage with people and actually bring about the change that we so desperately need.
There is no denying that we have been at a crossroads for a while in terms of actual climate change action, and our window for making the necessary changes is closing. But we still do have a window if we act now. So rather than fanning the flames of disaster and focusing on the scenarios that bring about apathy and fear, we all need to focus on the solutions.
The Report from the IPCC tells us that we are living right on the edge here. Like it or not the changes to our planet we are seeing today is just the start. Things are going to continue to change, and the less we do to stop it, the worse it will get.
We may have already caused irreversible damage to our climate but we still have an opportunity to avoid the worst-case-scenario for future generations. Now is not the time to panic, it’s time to work on solutions together.