The window is still open for world leaders to slash greenhouse gas emissions and curb the worst impacts of climate change, but an international group of scientists is warning them: “It’s now or never.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on Monday, which the head of the United Nations called a “damning” verdict of inaction and lies.
“This report of the IPCC is a litany of broken climate promises. It is a file of shame cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world,” declared UN secretary general António Guterres. “We are on a fast track to climate disaster.”
The report, called Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, is the seventh in a series of eight. It examined current global policy initiatives aimed at mitigating the worst impacts of the crisis.
Introducing its findings, Guterres urged listeners to imagine a future where the emergency continues unchecked — a world increasingly harrowed by blistering heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages, and mass extinctions of plants and animals.
“This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies,” he said. “We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double 1.5 C.”
Back in 2015, at an international summit in Paris, world leaders struck a landmark agreement to combat climate change that included limiting global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial average temperatures.
In Monday’s press release, the IPCC said it is still possible to half emissions by 2030 but only with urgent action. The group said the target will be unreachable “without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors.”
Guterres faulted the greed and deceit of business leaders and state heads who pay lip service to the climate crisis but refuse to act. He urged activists and Indigenous communities to demand new policies from their respective governments.
The latest @IPCC_CH report is a litany of broken climate promises.
Some government & business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another.
They are lying.
It is time to stop burning our planet. https://t.co/xzccxqwvhE
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) April 4, 2022
While his comments were bleak, even apocalyptic, IPCC scientists said there were some causes for optimism.
“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a livable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective.”
IPCC reports aim to provide world leaders and policymakers with concise and authoritative scientific assessments they can use to form their countries’ climate strategies.
This one is about 3,000 pages and dense with scientific jargon. A 63-page summary offers a policy blueprint that occasionally highlights the importance of drawing on Indigenous knowledge and including Indigenous Peoples in climate governance frameworks.
The 195-member panel began rolling out its sixth climate change assessment last summer, which Guterres has been describing in similarly dire terms.
He called the August 2021 report “a code red for humanity” and a “death knell” for fossil fuels. He said the “evidence is irrefutable” that human activity is fuelling climate change, which will have irreversible impacts.
The report set the stage for the latest UN climate summit, COP26, a few months later. Talks went right down to the wire, but nearly 200 countries eventually signed the Glasgow Climate Pact.
The deal commits signatories to limiting global warming and cutting greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Paris pact, but a proposed pledge to phase out coal power proved a sticking point and was eventually watered down.
Politicians, like Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, hailed the deal as a small win in the fight against climate change, but some delegates said it was too diluted.
Then the IPCC issued yet another “stark report” on Feb. 28, this time said to be the “bleakest warning yet” and dubbed by Guterres “an atlas of human suffering.”
Guilbeault called the latest IPCC report “very sobering” during a Monday press conference, adding, “Business as usual is not an option.”
The Canadian government, meanwhile, has been releasing its own equally grim reports warning that current efforts to adapt to climate change are inadequate while “the window for taking action to reduce increasingly severe impacts is rapidly closing.”
Watch the UN news conference here:
In Canada this means more floods, droughts and wildfires of both increasing severity and cost.
Warned one report: “We are experiencing more extreme heat, less extreme cold, longer growing seasons, shorter snow and ice cover seasons, earlier spring peak streamflow, thinning glaciers, thawing permafrost and rising sea levels.”
Indigenous communities often inhabit areas where the impact of climate change will be most severe, making them vulnerable to cataclysmic extreme weather, the reports found.
But Indigenous people are also leading the fight to mitigate those impacts, reduce carbon emissions, and transition to green energy, something Guterres and the IPCC also noted on Monday.