The IPCC concludes its titanic report with a new call to act… and quickly

This is a new pavement that publishes this Monday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Count 10,000 pages this time, synthesized like each report of the scientific body from a summary for decision-makers of 37 pages, negotiated to the word and then signed by 195 Member States meeting all last week in Interlaken, Switzerland.

Difficult to make more concise, as the task is titanic. This new report should be seen as the end point of the sixth evaluation round undertaken by the IPCC since its creation in 1988. A work that the group of experts does only every six or seven years and which should be seen as the major update of global scientific knowledge on climate change.

Unequivocal human responsibility

In August 2021, Group I of the IPCC had already drawn up a first report as part of this sixth development. He then looked into the physics of climate change and drew the conclusion of a climate crisis that is worsening everywhere and at unprecedented levels. In February 2022, Group II took over with a report on “adaptation”, i.e. the already real and future impacts of climate change and the ways to prepare for it. A month later, group III in turn published its part, this time devoted to mitigation, ie the solutions to be implemented to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

This new report published on Monday is the synthesis of these first three chapters*, from which it then takes up the main lessons one by one. With a certainty recalled from the outset: “Human activities, mainly through the greenhouse gas emissions they emit, have unequivocally caused global warming”. More than a century of fossil fuel combustion and unsustainable land use has led to global warming of 1.1°C on average compared to the pre-industrial period (1850-1900), the IPCC framework. In the same way, the sea level has risen by 20 cm since 1901, the area of ​​the Arctic sea ice has never been so reduced since 1850…

“Between 3.3 and 3.6 billion already very vulnerable”

“Between 3.3 and 3.6 billion people already live in highly vulnerable regions,” the report reiterates. They are exposed to food insecurity, water shortages, but also extreme events linked to climate change, which cause mortality, disease and population displacements. Humans are not the only ones affected. If climate change is not (yet) the first cause of biodiversity erosion, the IPCC still mentions “hundreds of local losses of species caused by episodes of extreme heat” already observed, as well as “intense mortality episodes”. Importantly, some of these impacts are approaching irreversibility. The IPCC cites the retreat of glaciers in mountain ecosystems or even permafrost thaw (perpetually frozen ground) and its consequences for the Arctic.

Hence the imperative to be concerned about adaptation to the already real consequences of climate change, an issue of the climate crisis that has until now been pushed into the background by the States. Admittedly, the IPCC notes progress in this area “The growing awareness of climate impacts has led at least 170 countries and many cities to include adaptation in their climate policies”. Not enough to claim victory. “Most of the adaptive responses observed are fragmented, progressive […] and unevenly distributed between the regions”, immediately adds the IPCC, which still lists a large number of obstacles: limited resources, a lack of funding, still too little awareness of the urgency of the situation… More worrying, the IPCC already reports cases of “mal-adaptations” in various sectors and regions and even fears that they will increase in the future.

“There are many options”

This call to catch up with the urgency of the current climate crisis is not only valid for adaptation. The IPCC also reiterates this on the mitigation component, i.e. everything that is done to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the main driver of the climate crisis. Here again, the group of experts notes a much greater place given to mitigation policies compared to 2014, the date of its last major assessment report. But there again, he adds in the process that we are still far from being on the right scale. The proof: GHG emissions continue to grow “when they would have to be reduced by almost half by 2030 to hope to limit global warming to +1.5°C”, indicates the report.

Determined national contributions, these action plans to reduce their emissions that each country had to revise upwards and submit to the United Nations, will no longer allow us to stay on this trajectory. The IPCC says in any case “likely” that global warming will exceed +1.5°C during this century” and “that it will be hard to stay below 2°C”.

Energy efficiency, renewable energies, reduction of food waste, better management of forests, crops and grasslands… “There are many realistic and effective ways to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change, insists this summary report. And they are accessible now, insists the IPCC, stressing for example that the production costs of solar (85%) and wind (55%) energy have dropped drastically between 2010 and 2019.

The Giec highlights two reasons to get started without delay. On the one hand, “sustainable reductions in GHG emissions would lead to a perceptible slowdown in global warming within two decades”, assures the IPCC. On the other hand, putting the package on these mitigation and adaptation policies will have many co-benefits. On employment, air quality, human health and the health of our ecosystems as well.

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