For much of the world, climate-change stress is right here, right now — and the latest highly-anticipated United Nations’ report confirms this emergency.
The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday issued the second of three multiyear reports, following a release last November ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Rather than focus on how countries and cities can cut emissions in the future, this round drilled down on short-term crises around the world in places under immediate threat and with no funding to act. And it called out the oil and gas industries in particular.
The authors warned of large gaps between ongoing efforts to adapt, such as longer-run net-zero emissions goals, and the action required to address the growing risks.
For environmental groups, private-sector champions of green technology and many policy-makers, it’s reinforcement that the globe’s oil habit BRN00, along with the financial system’s propensity to finance that habit and government reluctance to cut fossil-fuel subsidies, all have to end.
The energy industry itself has maintained that it has the scale to help with the push to renewables and the inclusion of carbon-emissions capture and storage and other technologies that could “clean up” the sector. Some groups, including a U.S.-based natural gas utility trade group, say a mix of energy sources will be needed to keep economic growth afloat and help the U.S. maintain energy independence.
The U.N. release hits with all eyes on the Russian-Ukraine crisis and what, for the rest of Europe in particular, is a sobering reckoning with reliance on Russian natural gas
even as a push toward renewable solar, wind, nuclear, hydrogen and other sources continues.
“As current events make all too clear, our continued reliance on fossil fuels makes the global economy and energy security vulnerable to geopolitical shocks and crises,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday.
To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious and accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the IPCC panel urged.
So far, progress on adaptation is uneven and there were increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the new report found. Those gaps were largest among lower-income populations.
The series of reports — which can help set everything from global emissions targets to disaster insurance reviews to the next trend in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing
— brought together hundreds of the world’s leading scientists and are issued every five to seven years.
“This IPCC report proves the cause of the problem: fossil fuels did this. But there is also good news, we know precisely how to reclaim our futures from the fossil fuel industry
: by pushing financial institutions to cut off funding and closing the doors for Big Oil,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, an activist group and climate justice advocacy.
The latest report “will help investors move from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’, opening the door for deeper conversations on impact investing, direction for policymakers, and the fact that incremental change is not enough,” said Aniket Shah, global head of ESG and sustainable finance, at Jefferies. “The IPCC’s [latest] report is the most comprehensive synthesis on the physical science of climate change ever written, approved by 195 governments and based on more than14,000 studies.”
“‘This IPCC report proves the cause of the problem: fossil fuels did this.’”
This installment, the second of three, followed last year’s “code red” warning from the IPCC. Participating scientists confirmed in that August release that human-led warming was already accelerating sea level rise, melting crucial ice caps and creating more (and more frequent) droughts, floods and storms. Sure, extreme and deadly heat waves, for example, remained rare. But that rarity has narrowed from roughly once every 50 years to once every decade or so.
The latest update integrates more strongly natural, social and economic sciences, highlighting the role of social justice and diverse knowledge such as indigenous and local feedback, the IPCC said.
Report co-chair Hans-Otto Poertner said at a recent press briefing earlier this year that there were temperature limits to what key ecosystems, animal and plant species and, in particular, humans can withstand. In some places, warming is near those limits and in a few cases, such as much of the world’s coral reefs, the limits have been passed.
“We are losing living spaces for species and for ourselves as well,” Poertner said then. “Because with climate change, some parts of the planet would become uninhabitable.”
The IPCC last August set five scenarios for the future, based on how much carbon emissions are cut. But each version, given current policy and practices, surpasses the more stringent of two temperature thresholds set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. World leaders agreed then to try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century, and no more than 2 degrees Celsius.
The limit is only a few tenths of a degree hotter than current temperatures at the time of the report because the world has already warmed nearly 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) in the past century and a half.
“‘We are losing living spaces for species and for ourselves as well. Because with climate change, some parts of the planet would become uninhabitable.’”
The latest U.N. report also added in linkages between biodiversity and climate change. Questions around lost biodiversity and its connection to the spread of COVID-19 from animal to human also color the latest thinking.
The report said that 80% of the planet’s shrinking biodiversity was on indigenous land, and changes to ecosystems were having immediate impacts on indigenous peoples and local communities.
Friends of the Earth said the report-writing process also included “attempts by the U.S. and developed countries to remove key climate finance terminology.
“In what should have been a scientific, not political, process, rich countries battled to erase references to key concepts like loss and damage and to water down references to the scale of finance needed for adaptation,” the group said.
The IPCC report also warned of some of the dangers of implementing technofixes like solar radiation modification, and large scale bioenergy, with or without carbon capture and storage. The risk, they said, was that these methods would be seen as a substitute for curbing reliance on fossil fuels.
“This report sounds the alarm about the risks of some of the technologies that rich countries and transnational corporations are betting on, to avoid an urgent and necessary phase out of fossil fuels,” said Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy international program coordinator at Friends of the Earth International.
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