The Latest IPCC Report Presents a Pathway for Hope
"It's here. It's us. We're sure. It's bad. But we can fix it." Prof. Kimberly Nicholas
Today marks the release of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report. Professor Nicholas sums up the results nicely in her quote above. But, what does this mean for the average reader?
There are several takeaways from the IPCC Report released today. First, the report confirms that it is "unequivocal that human activity is what is contributing the most to warming the planet (an upgrade from the prior Report language of "very likely"). Second, temperatures will keep rising until mid-century no matter how deeply we cut emissions, due to the fact that we have tripped tipping points, and therefore, we are now unlikely to be able to keep warming below the 1.5 degree Celsius guardrail outlined by the Paris Agreement. However, we can keep emissions below 2 degrees Celsius - if, and only if, we make drastic cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Third, weather will continue to become more extreme: that means heatwaves, floods, droughts will all continue, at higher frequency and intensity, under a 1.5 degree warming scenario, which is our current scenario. Fourth, we are almost out of time. We have a carbon budget - a concept I discuss in my book chapter - and this means we can emit no more than 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which we are on track to emit within the next 10 years. Fifth and finally, if we can drastically cut GHG emissions in the next decade, and reach net-zero by 2050 we still have a chance to create a world that limits the average global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius of warming. So what does all this mean for you?
It is normal and natural to feel overwhelmed, triggered, or devastated by this report and its findings. The waves of headlines will cause grief, anxiety and many doomsday scenarios. It is also important to remember that while certain facts are inevitable, as my good friend Tariq Al-Olaimy said, there are alternative paths for this earth, and we need to organize now.
Let's address these takeaways together. As to the first takeaway that humans are responsible, while headlines will grab attention by screaming "humans are to blame," flip this equation in your head and realize that humans can act quickly to avert us on the path we are on. We are agents of change, too and we need not embrace paralytic despair in favor of what we can do right now in this moment. Second, timing is everything - the year 2030 must be the target for climate and sustainability goals. Third, because extreme weather events are more likely and deadly heat extremes will affect larger and larger populations, it is even more important that we implement the Kigali Amendment and concentrate on cooling efficiency as a strategy to severely cut GHG emissions (because HFCs, a coolant, are a "super-greenhouse gas"), eliminate air pollution, create better health conditions and quality of life, save energy costs for governments, industry and people, and decrease inequity around the world. Fourth, our carbon budget is a concept we know is directly related to major changes in energy consumption, and this means energy efficiency must be a priority. As to the fifth finding that we must make drastic cuts in the next ten years, this is possible if we concentrate on short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs): black carbon, methane, HFCs and tropospheric ozone. These are hundreds or thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide, and making deep cuts to SLCP's has an immediate effect on the climate.
The new IPCC Report warns us not to ignore the effect of humankind upon the ever-destabilizing climate. It also galvanizes us to act upon the things we know are in our control and which we can change right now.