The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has handed down a powerful new report on the devastating reality of the climate crisis, and urges swift, accelerated action to phase out fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions, writes Uma Singh.
The IPCC’s “Sixth Assessment Synthesis Report” – the closing chapter of the IPCC’s sixth cycle of assessment – outlines the catastrophic reality of climate change and stresses the need for urgent action this decade to avoid global temperatures exceeding the tipping point of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
The report is considered a final warning and is described by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres as a “survival guide for humanity” because of its urgent declaration to heed science and take immediate action on climate change.
Without drastic action to reduce emissions this decade, the report – compiled by almost 300 scientists across 67 countries – states that irreversible damage will be done to the earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and frozen poles that will have significant consequences, potentially for thousands of years, including rising sea levels and extreme drought, heatwaves and flooding.
“This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe,” says Guterres.
“Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”
At the heart of the response to the climate crisis is the transition to renewable energy, with the report imploring governments around the world to implement widespread adoption of electrification, including clean energy sources such as solar and wind.
“The evidence is crystal clear and the science is unequivocal – it’s just the lack of political will that is holding us back from the bold action necessary to avert a climate catastrophe,” says Dr Stephen Cornelius, the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) global deputy lead, climate and energy.
“Leaders who ignore the science of climate change are failing their people. A rapid phase-out of fossil fuels is essential, as is protecting and restoring natural ecosystems.”
The world’s leading climate scientists are urging governments to heed the report’s warnings and urgently implement its recommendations before it’s too late, including rapidly slashing emissions across all sectors, boosting efforts to build resilience to extreme weather events, and protecting and restoring nature.
“The central message from climate scientists is unmistakable: governments must rally to drastically cut emissions and cease the extraction and burning of fossil fuels this decade,” says Dr Simon Bradshaw, the Climate Council’s director of research.
“That message has been delivered repeatedly, and consistently, for many decades. This report will no doubt do the same. We are seeing progress when it comes to renewable energy uptake, and cleaner transport, but things just aren’t moving fast enough.
“If we haven’t seriously turned things around by the time the next such assessment report is due, we’ll be in very deep trouble.
“We have a choice to act swiftly this decade. If we start giving it our all right now, we can avert the worst of it.
“So many solutions are readily available, such as solar and wind power, storage, electric appliances and clean transport options, but we need to get our skates on.
“This is why it is important to get the Safeguard Mechanism right. The era of big polluters trading our future for a quick dollar must now come to an end. Coal, oil and gas needs to be phased out and left behind in the polluting past where they belong, replaced by the clean industries of the future.”
Australia is particularly vulnerable to the ravages of climate change, with major impacts including an increase in heatwave and flooding events; irreversible loss of coral reefs; loss of alpine species; collapse of forests in southern Australia; loss of kelp forests; and rising sea level. The nation is already experiencing some of these events.
“Australia is one of the most vulnerable developed countries to the impacts of climate change and we’ve seen the risks dramatically escalate during the past five years,” says Professor Lesley Hughes, Climate Councillor, former IPCC author and Distinguished Professor of Biology at Macquarie University.
“We have much to lose and everything to gain by acting decisively to get emissions plummeting in this critical decade.
“While this is a summary report of work we had already seen in development, there is no doubt its findings will be dire. Since the previous IPCC report was released, we’ve had even more unnatural disasters. We must focus on the fact that predictions are now becoming observations.
“We’ve also had a period since the previous IPCC report came out where global emissions are rising once again so the gap between where we are and where we need to go is increasing rather than decreasing.
“We have a closing window to drive global momentum towards getting us back on track for a safer climate. Governments must heed the warnings in this report – every fraction of a degree of warming matters, and every action matters.”
While Australia is taking affirmative action with legislated emissions goals as part of the 2022 Climate Change Bill – a 43 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050 – the scientific community’s consensus is more needs to be done.
“WWF-Australia commissioned research found Australia needs to slash its emissions by 74 per cent by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2035 to do our fair share to help limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” says Dr Krista Singleton-Cambage, WWF-Australia’s head of climate and food security.
“We urge the Australian Government to take all opportunities to reduce our emissions, in line with current science, and increase our resilience to address the impact of climate change.
“Australia can play a central role. We have what it takes to build a world-leading renewables industry, phase out fossil fuel exports, and become a global leader on climate action.”
Sir David King, chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, says science is offering solutions to reverse the effects of climate change, and it is up to the world’s population to work together as one.
“The good news is science has provided a clear roadmap for us to get back on track,” he says.
“We must continue to rapidly reduce our global emissions, but we also must simultaneously increase investment, awareness and adoption of greenhouse gas removal at scale, as well as action climate repair technologies and techniques.
“By adopting the ‘three R’ strategy of reduce, remove and repair, we can deliver a safe and manageable future for humanity. But time is no longer on our side.”