IPCC climate science report: code red for humanity says UN Secretary General
“Today’s IPCC Working Group 1 Report is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.” said Antonio Guiterres, UN Secretary General upon the launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th assessment report on the Physical science.
“The internationally agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius is perilously close. We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near term. The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path. We must act decisively now to keep 1.5 alive.” said Guiterres in an official statement.
IPCC reports are done every five years. They do not generate new science but thoroughly review and assess existing peer reviewed science contributions. The first report was done in 1992.
The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) comprises three Working Group contributions: Working Group I (the physical science basis), Working Group II (impacts, adaptation and vulnerability) and Working Group III (mitigation) and a Synthesis Report. Working Group II and III and the Synthesis report will be published in early 2022.
The full Working Group 1 report can be read online. From this is distilled a Summary for Policymakers (PDF) which is vetted line by line by a meeting of representatives of all governments. The Summary for Policymakers is 40 pages long which all government representatives have agreed to. From this is generated a Headline statements (PDF) document being a quick summary of the Summary for policymakers and the full expert report.
A quick video summary in 7.5 minutes:
The sixth assessment report for the first time also includes an interactive atlas and regional climate observations and assessment Fact Sheets.
- Australian land areas have warmed by around 1.4°C and New Zealand land areas by around 1.1°C between ~1910 and 2020 (very high confidence), and annual temperature changes have emerged above natural variability in all land regions (high confidence).
- Heat extremes have increased, cold extremes have decreased, and these trends are projected to continue (high confidence).
- Relative sea level rose at a rate higher than the global average in recent decades; sandy shorelines have retreated in many locations; relative sea level rise is projected to continue in the 21st century and beyond, contributing to increased coastal flooding and shoreline retreat along sandy coasts throughout Australasia (high confidence).
- Snow cover and depth have decreased and are projected to decrease further (high confidence).
- Frequency of extreme fire weather days has increased, and the fire season has become longer since 1950 at many locations (medium confidence). The intensity, frequency and duration of fire weather events are projected to increase throughout Australia (high confidence) and New Zealand (medium confidence).
- Heavy rainfall and river floods are projected to increase (medium confidence).
- An increase in marine heatwaves and ocean acidity is observed and projected (high confidence).
- Enhanced warming in the East Australian Current region of the Tasman Sea is observed and projected (very high confidence). • Sand storms and dust storms are projected to increase throughout Australia (medium confidence).
- Changes in several climatic impact-drivers (e.g., heatwaves, droughts, floods; see Introduction fact sheet) would be more widespread at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming and even more widespread and/or pronounced for higher warming levels.
“The most important climate science update for almost a decade shows there is a path to avoiding climate catastrophe, but only through immediate, deep and sustained emissions reductions. This may be our final warning.”“Climate change is already wreaking havoc around the world. Our decisions today will be the difference between a liveable future for today’s young people, and a future that is incompatible with well-functioning human societies.”“Every choice and every fraction of a degree of avoided warming matters. The right choices will be measured in lives, livelihoods, species and ecosystems saved. Australia, as a major emitter and blessed with unrivalled potential for renewable energy, simply has to step up with a far stronger commitment ahead of COP26.”
The viability of our societies depends on leaders from government, business and civil society uniting behind policies, actions and investments that will limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We owe this to the entire human family, especially the poorest and most vulnerable communities and nations that are the hardest hit despite being least responsible for today’s climate emergency.The solutions are clear. Inclusive and green economies, prosperity, cleaner air and better health are possible for all if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage. All nations, especially the G20 and other major emitters, need to join the net zero emissions coalition and reinforce their commitments with credible, concrete and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and policies before COP26 in Glasgow.We need immediate action on energy. Without deep carbon pollution cuts now, the 1.5-degree goal will fall quickly out of reach. This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. There must be no new coal plants built after 2021. OECD countries must phase out existing coal by 2030, with all others following suit by 2040. Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy. By 2030, solar and wind capacity should quadruple and renewable energy investments should triple to maintain a net zero trajectory by mid-century.
Climate impacts will undoubtedly worsen. There is a clear moral and economic imperative to protect the lives and livelihoods of those on the front lines of the climate crisis. Adaptation and resilience finance must cease being the neglected half of the climate equation. Only 21 per cent of climate support is directed towards adaptation. I again call on donors and the multilateral development banks to allocate at least 50 per cent of all public climate finance to protecting people, especially women and vulnerable groups. COVID-19 recovery spending must be aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. And the decade-old promise to mobilize $100 billion annually to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries must be met.
The climate crisis poses enormous financial risk to investment managers, asset owners, and businesses. These risks should be measured, disclosed and mitigated. I am asking corporate leaders to support a minimum international carbon price and align their portfolios with the Paris Agreement. The public and private sector must work together to ensure a just and rapid transformation to a net zero global economy.
The Australian Conservation Foundation’s climate change program manager, Gavan McFadzean, commented:
“This report reconfirms carbon dioxide as the biggest driver of global warming and says other climate pollutants, such as methane gas, must also be reduced as quickly as possible.“These projections are a stark warning and must act as a wake-up call to all politicians.“If the rest of the world follows in Australia’s climate policy footsteps, the planet and all its inhabitants face a catastrophic future.“In many cases, those least responsible will bear the greatest burden, such as our Pacific Island neighbours, who face an existential threat from sea level rise.“The Morrison government’s gas led recovery has no place to hide after these findings. It must be replaced by an urgent transition to renewables for our domestic use and exports.“Scott Morrison’s refusal to commit to a net zero target—and instead just hope for the best— flies in the face of this imminent threat.“Australia’s fair share means we must cut our climate pollution by more than two-thirds in the next decade and reach zero emissions in 15 years; 2050 is too late.“Australia can become a global clean energy superpower in the next decade by replacing coal and gas with renewable energy. We mustn’t get distracted by dangerous nuclear and the pipe dream of carbon capture and storage.“We have abundant clean energy, tools and talent to do the job, but we cannot delay any longer.”
A statement issued by one of the negotiating groups, Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) which represents 39 small island and low-lying coastal developing states in international climate change, sustainable development negotiations and processes.:
“Major emitters must take account for the damages inflicted by the fossil fuel industry, knowing that every single tonne of carbon and every single dollar spent on fossil fuels will have a negative impact,” said Ambassador Diann Black-Layne of Antigua and Barbuda, Lead Climate Negotiator for AOSIS. “Near-term action to assuage the worst of the man-made climate impacts is crucial, and the barriers put in our way are the result of the fossil fuel industry’s fight against losing its power. It’s a sector that’s being paid annual subsidies of over $600 billion to destroy our planet, while the UN Climate Fund gets US $2.4 billion a year to save it.”
“We have to turn this around. The IPCC confirms the experience of Small Island States: that cyclones are getting more intense, and that sea levels are rising, but it also confirms that we can still curb the worst of it.
“The stark fact is that if we keep warming to 1.5˚C we are still facing half a metre of sea level rise. But if we stop warming from reaching 2˚C, we can avoid a long term three metres of sea level rise. That is our very future, right there.”
The IPCC report makes it clear that methane is a powerful and dangerous greenhouse gas that plays a major role in driving climate change. Rapid reductions in methane emissions can have an important short-term effect in slowing temperature rise.“Methane emissions from Australia’s gas industry are a contributor to the recent rise in global methane concentrations. To do our fair share to meet the Paris climate goals, it is critical that no new gas fields are opened and that our existing gas industry is phased out as quickly as possible,” said Professor Steffen.Based on the latest science, the Climate Council is recommending that Australia reduce its emissions by 75% (below 2005 levels) by 2030. We need to achieve net zero emissions by 2035.
Australian Government Response
The Prime Minister Scott Morrison, had mixed messages. He said ” We must take action, as we indeed are, and continue to take action, as we will continue to, in developed countries, in advanced economies.”
He then went on to deflect the problem is in the developing world, without any mention that Australia has failed its climate finance commitments to help some of these countries to step up emissions reduction and adaptation. “But, we cannot ignore the fact that the developing world accounts for two thirds of global emissions, and those emissions are rising. That is a stark fact.” the Prime Minister said.
In August 2021 The Australia Institute published an assessment of Australia’s energy transition compared to a similar cohort of developed countries – Back of the pack, An assessment of Australia’s energy transition. It found that since 2005 Australia has maintained, if not slipped further behind, its OECD counterparts when it comes to the energy transition.
- Despite prioritising productivity as one of the key policies to help Australia meet its Paris Agreement goal, energy productivity in Australia slipped back four places in the rankings.
- Australia was one of only three countries in which emissions from energy use actually increased between 2005 and 2019.
- Despite a growing population and good economic growth, in 2019 Australia ranked second last on energy emissions per capita and per GDP, behind the USA and Russia respectively.
- Emissions intensity of Australia’s energy system in 2019 was second only to that of Poland, primarily because both countries were, and still are, heavily reliant on coal for electricity generation and also, to some extent, for supplying industrial heat.
- Australia also performed poorly in terms of transport emissions per capita (22nd out of 24) and have only reduced these emissions by 1% since 2005, placing 17th out of 24 in this regard.
- By 2019 Australians were consuming more energy per person than 20 (of the 23) other countries. Australia is unique in being the only country of the top energy consuming nations to have exhibited an increase in energy use per person over the period 2005-2019.