Known as one of the world’s foremost authorities on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a part of its Sixth Assessment Cycle Report on April 4, 2022, providing a global assessment of climate mitigation efforts. Likely to be the last set published while intervention is still possible, these reports are landing at a make-or-break moment in human history, impacting global climate policy and potentially generating rapid waves of change down to the local level.
What is the IPCC?
Created in 1988, the IPCC is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations that conducts a comprehensive and systematic periodic review of all climate science literature. Thousands of scientists across the globe participate in what has been often called the biggest peer-review process in the scientific community, resulting in objective information, impacts, and response recommendations on climate change.
Due to the time-intensive nature of this endeavor, the IPCC has had only six assessment cycles since its inception in 1988, with the latest one scheduled to conclude this year. Every cycle creates three reports from each of its Working Groups (Physical Science, Impacts and Adaptation, and Mitigation), which are approved by the panel’s 195 member states.
Why is the IPCC Report Important?
With a review cycle that takes over seven years to conduct, this may be the final time that the IPCC is able to issue a warning on the critical reality of climate change before the window of intervention slams shut. The recommendations and their timely implementation will likely play a heavy role in painting a picture of our collective future.
Some key points from the Working Group 3 report on Mitigation for Climate Change are:
- A global heating overshoot of 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels is “almost inevitable,” but can be brought back down by the end of the century if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reduced drastically in this decade. However, the current investment towards shifting to a low-carbon world is about six times lower than it needs to be.
- Now must be the end of fossil fuel dependence, and no new fossil fuel infrastructure should be built. The use of coal must be phased out entirely and methane emissions need to be reduced by a third.
- Preserving forests and growing new ones is still a priority, but tree planting alone can no longer offset continued fossil fuel emissions.
- Carbon capture and storage (CSS) technologies are likely to be required to limit carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.
- The cost of ending the climate crisis is small and cost-saving in the long run (amounting for around 1-2% of a doubled global Gross Domestic Product [GDP] by 2050), but the upfront investment in developing countries may require financial assistance from developed ones.
The Working Group 3 report followed the one by the Working Group 2 in February, which dealt with climate change impacts, adaptation, and response. Among other facts, the latter declared an emphatic warning that no inhabited area on earth will escape dire consequences if GHG emissions are not halved by 2030.
What Does This Mean at a Local and Individual Level?
Climate policy research has repeatedly emphasized that true climate action rests in downscaling response to local, community, and individual levels, which means that the IPCC recommendations must be embodied down to the smallest platform. Lifestyle changes like lowering the consumption of meat and energy-intensive goods will become essential to reaching GHG emission targets and ensuring the global livability of our planet.
At the local level, the urgency of reducing fossil fuel reliance has already resulted in a fall in renewable energy infrastructure prices in the past decade and indicates an increased push towards policy incentives to adopt the same. This means that community-scaled projects like the Oakland EcoBlock may become a potential model for effectively transitioning to renewable energy sources.
This November, world governments will meet in Egypt for an annual summit called COP27, where they will discuss cracking down further on GHG emissions in line with the 1.5°C target. The congregation will result in the creation of a summary report, which will conclude the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Cycle.
According to Madeleine Diouf Sarr, the government of Senegal’s climate chief, “this report is a resounding call to action for governments…We know the scale of the problem. We know the solution. This report provides a roadmap of how to get there. Let’s get on with it without delay.”
Cover image credit: The Hill