The new IPCC Synthesis Report: we are still in time to slow down the climate crisis
The new IPCC synthesis report is “a survival manual for humanity”, says UN Guterres number 1
(sustainabilityenvironment.com) – Act now, otherwise it will be too late. This is the message in which the 36 pages of the new IPCC Synthesis Report can be condensed, the final report that in turn summarizes the thousands and thousands of pages of the 6th Assessment Report (AR6)published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change three episodes between 2021 and 2022.
Simply put everything climate science has to say about how humanity today can avoid the worst impact of the climate crisis. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called it “a survival manual for humanity”. It may seem like rhetoric. It is not.
If there is a concept that the hundreds of scientists who have worked since 2015 to analyze, ponder and systematize the most up-to-date climate science, it is this: the climate crisis is really an existential threat to humanity, destined in any case to profoundly change our lives and those of future generations. It is now up to us to create the right environmental policies to make this change as favourable as possible.
What is the new IPCC Synthesis Report and why is it important?
The AR6 synthesis report presented today in Interlaken is a political document. As with all IPCC reports, the extended scientific document is always accompanied by a much shorter and more incisive summary for politicians. This summary is prepared by scientists but must then be approved word for word by delegations from all 193 IPCC member countries. It is neither a simple nor a short process. The summary presented today was negotiated for more than a week and the final ok arrived Sunday evening instead of Friday, almost 48 hours after the deadline.
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Therefore, the new IPCC Synthesis Report contains indications for the policy filed by the politicians themselves. Just as during the negotiations in the various international fora (from the COP to the G20 to the G7), each country tries to sweeten or make the text more ambitious. Since unanimity is needed, that is, all 193 have the power of veto, the summary of the synthesis report is the lowest common denominator of climate action: Data and concepts that pass the review – at least in theory – are the common starting point for any climate policy.
State-of-the-art, current trends, future risks, long-term responses, and short-term responses. These are the three sections in which the new IPCC Synthesis Report is divided, which in turn integrate and summarize the conclusions reached by the three parts of the AR6: “The basics of physical science” (AR6 WG1), “Impacts, adaptations and vulnerabilities” (AR6 WG2), “Climate change mitigation” (AR6 WG3). In addition, this synthesis report also integrates the conclusions of the three thematic reports on the oceans and cryosphere, climate change and land and objective 1.5°C, all released after ‘AR5 of 2014.
What does the latest IPCC synthesis report say about the current state of the climate?
The first chapter reiterates that the current climate crisis is “unequivocally” the work of man but stops a step before assigning a differentiated responsibility for historical emissions. It is a crucial step in the climate negotiations: if it were recognized, it would upset the principle on which the whole process of the Cop is based, that of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR).
The CBDR is applied in a timeless way, that is to the situation as it was at the beginning of the 1990s. Integrating historical emissions into this principle – so all greenhouse gases generated since the beginning of the industrial revolution to today would aggravate the responsibilities for countries with advanced economies and reduce them for developing ones. China is the exception: for the purposes of IPCC is still classified as developing, although its historical emissions (concentrated almost all after 2000) place it at the 2nd place among the major polluters, behind the United States.
It is on these issues that the tug of war for Loss & Damage (losses and damages) is playing today, that part of climate finance is the absolute protagonist at the Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh last November.
The consolidated report only acknowledges that “the historical contributions of CO2 emissions vary substantially between regions in terms of total size” and stresses the fact that “the most vulnerable communities, which have historically contributed less to ongoing climate change, are disproportionately affected”.
On adaptation there are important gaps that will grow: the climate crisis travels faster than our current ability to adapt to a warmer 1.1 ºC world. Part of the problem is the lack of adequate climate finance, which is all the more urgent when we consider that the limits of adaptation have already been reached for some ecosystems. On the mitigation front, the promises on the climate of the States made before the COP26 lead us to a world 2.8 at warmer C in 2100, while remaining in a climate scenario with limited overshoot and return below 1.5°C by the end of the century, action must be taken effectively by 2030.
A look to the future
We are living a critical decade for climate action. But even the one during which, most likely we will exceed at least once the 1.5°C of global warming, supports the new IPCC Synthesis Report, while the most drastic reductions in greenhouse gases would have visible effects within 20 years. To keep the 1.5 degree within reach, even with limited overshoot, “fast and deep and, in most cases, immediate greenhouse gas reductions are needed”.
The long-term impacts of the climate crisis will be “several times greater” than what we see today. And as the impact of climatic extremes increases, the climatic and non-climatic consequences of the crisis will intertwine more and more. “Some future changes are inevitable and/or irreversible, but they can be limited by a deep, rapid and sustained reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions,” reads the summary of the synthesis report: in particular, the increase in sea levels. And there is a high level of convergent evidence and scientific consensus that more warming is likely to trigger tipping points with cascading effects. While the adaptation options that are available today, with more global warming will become more complex to implement.
What can we do today?
The best answer we can give is “a climate-resilient development“, an expression with which the IPCC indicates both a bundle of priority options on the table and the way they are implemented. “Climate-resilient development complements adaptation and mitigation to advance sustainable development for all and is made possible by increased international cooperation, including better access to adequate financial resources, in particular for the regions, vulnerable sectors and groups, as well as inclusive governance and coordinated policies”, reads the new IPCC Synthesis Report.
Acting immediately will give immediate benefits, especially in terms of pollution and health, while acting late means being chained to high-emission infrastructure, increasing the risks of stranded assets and escalating costs, less feasibility and more loss and damage, scientists point out.
But the main message for climate action is that the technologies and options needed to keep global warming within 1.5 ºC are already available today, albeit with differences between region and region. But in any case, we must “give priority to equity, climate justice, social justice, inclusion and fair transition processes”, a path that “can allow ambitious adaptation and mitigation actions and climate-resilient development”.
Read here the IPCC synthesis report.