It's Earth Month – a time to raise awareness and incite action around the issues affecting our planet amidst the climate crisis. It is also a time to reflect on our relationship with Earth and how humanity can and must do better when it comes to how we treat our planet.
So let's face the truth together and talk about the latest climate discoveries released that have been raising a lot of questions about the future of our home we call Earth: the newest IPCC Assessment Report on Climate Change.
What is the "IPCC"?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body consisting of thousands of the world's top climate scientists and advisors, who are charged with the global responsibility to assess and advance scientific knowledge about human-induced climate change. (Yes, the climate crisis is primarily caused by humans.)
Why is the report important?
Officially known as the Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment (or "AR6"), this comprehensive report summarizes more than five years of data and research on the current state of climate change, the resulting risks and impacts, and how we can mitigate and adapt to our changing climate for a better future.
This report is being called a "final warning" from the IPCC for humanity to make the drastic and necessary changes in order to avoid irreversible damage to our planet. In addition to sharing the losses and risks, the IPCC has also shared pathways for a sustainable future.
With eighty-five dense pages of information, there is a lot to digest with AR6. To save you some time, Sustainable Ocean Alliance has pulled the top takeaways you should know about this report in regard to our warming planet and ocean.
The Top Challenges:
1. Right now, our current pace of action is NOT sufficient to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Our planet has already warmed 1.2º Celsius above preindustrial levels, due mainly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, global pollution, and more. Global goals have set 1.5ºC of warming as the upper limit before we risk the chance of putting all species (including humans) in jeopardy.
See Figure 2.1: The causal chain from emissions to resulting warming of the climate system.
2. We have already spent about 80% of the total carbon budget set in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, meaning it is "very likely" that we will exceed 1.5ºC of global warming in the next 10 years (with the risk of reaching 5ºC by the end of THIS century).
See Figure 3.5: Cumulative past, projected, and committed emissions, and associated global temperature changes.
3. Global warming will continue to increase in the near future mainly due to rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. With every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger, more complex, and harder to manage.
See Figure 4.3: Every region faces more severe or frequent compound and/or cascading climate risks in the near term.
4. Widespread and rapid changes in the ocean and atmosphere have already occurred. We have seen this with the many weather and climate extremes such as heatwaves, heavy storms, droughts, and cyclones affecting every region and ecosystem across the globe – impacting vulnerable frontline communities first.
5. Sea levels have risen by 8 inches since preindustrial times and will be unavoidable for centuries (possibly even millennia) due to deep ocean warming and sea ice melt, and sea levels will remain elevated for THOUSANDS of years. The IPCC states that "human influence is very likely the main driver of these increases." However, rapid reductions in GHG emissions would limit further sea level rise acceleration and projected long-term sea level rise commitment.
See Figure 3.4: Observed and projected global mean sea level change and its impacts, and time scales of coastal risk management.
6. Ocean warming and acidification have adversely affected food security for fisheries and aquaculture in many regions. Nearly 90% of the world's fisheries are already exploited or in a state of collapse.
7. We have to conserve between 30-50% of Earth’s land and ocean ecosystems to avoid global biodiversity and ecosystem collapse.
8. At 2-3° Celsius warming, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will be lost almost completely and irreversibly over multiple millennia, causing several meters of sea level rise.
9. Climate-vulnerable communities are 15x more affected than low-vulnerability communities despite being those who have historically contributed the least to climate change.
See Figure 2.3: Both vulnerability to current climate extremes and historical contribution to climate change are highly heterogeneous with many of those who have least contributed to climate change to date being most vulnerable to its impacts.
10. Climate change is a threat to human livelihood and planetary health and the window to act is narrowing more and more every day.
See Figure SPM.1: Adverse impacts from human-caused climate change will continue to intensify.
The Top Wins:
1. At least 170 countries and many cities have implemented climate adaptation plans and policies. Despite this progress, adaptation gaps will continue to exist and grow across sectors and regions under current levels of implementation, with the largest gaps among lower-income groups.
2. Local businesses, youth, women, labor groups, media, Indigenous Peoples, and communities have been identified as key stakeholders for the success of climate-resilient development.
3. Nature-based solutions are becoming increasingly more cost-effective and accessible to the public. However, there is still a wide gap in accessibility to these solutions for vulnerable and low-income regions.
See Figure SPM.7: Multiple Opportunities for scaling up climate action.
4. International cooperation, access to financial resources, and inclusive policies are critical for successful sustainable development and must increase by 5-6x current levels to limit warming to 1.5-2ºC. There is sufficient global capital to close the investment gaps – it all depends on if investors are willing to redirect capital to climate action.
5. Drawing on a diverse range of Indigenous, local, and scientific knowledge in addition to cultural values through meaningful participation and inclusive engagement will facilitate climate-resilient development and build capacity.
6. Climate action that prioritizes equity, social justice, and inclusivity lead to more sustainable outcomes, reduce trade-offs, support transformative change, and advance climate-resilient development.
See Figure SPM.6: There is a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.
There is so much more to the IPCC's AR6 Report, and analysts will continue to dissect the findings of this report for months and possibly even years to come as we work to build solutions, action plans, and climate-forward policies to limit the impacts of climate change as best we can.
While this report has undoubtedly produced a lot of climate anxiety for many of us, it is important we recognize the greatest takeaway of all: we currently have everything we need to reverse climate change. Now, it is up to us to turn from talking to action and solutions.
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There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all. The longer we delay, the greater the consequence will be on our planet. The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years to come.