IPCC report: a how-to guide to defuse the ticking climate time-bomb

Figure SPM.6 on page 26 in the IPCC Synthesis Report’s Summary for Policymakers

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says that countries must now do “everything, everywhere, all at once”.

This should be on everybody’s mind – and not just today, but every single day from today and onwards right until we have got this ticking time-bomb under control.

In his speech on 20 March 2023, Guterres stated what is required of us – and our governments:

No new coal and the phasing out of coal by 2030 in OECD countries and 2040 in all other countries.

Ending all international public and private funding of coal.

Ensuring net zero electricity generation by 2035 for all developed countries and 2040 for the rest of the world.

Ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas – consistent with the findings of the International Energy Agency.

Stopping any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves.

Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to a just energy transition.

Establishing a global phase down of existing oil and gas production compatible with the 2050 global net zero target.

I urge all governments to prepare energy transition plans consistent with these actions and ready for investors.”

So there you have it: If the United Nations had any teeth as humanity’s only planetary, intergovernmental body – if it had been given the authority to actually rule as humanity’s supreme government, this would make the current Australian government look either like fools – or like criminals.

The Australian Labor government persistently insisting that it would be “irresponsible” not to allow the opening of new gas and coal projects flies in the face of science and is, in fact, cowardly irresponsible and despicable, considering the consequences the IPCC outlines it will have in the coming decades and centuries to come.

ITM wrote: “As you have probably seen this week, the IPCC report gave us yet another warning that we’re running low on time to keep the catastrophic effects of climate change at bay. When faced with news like this, there are only a couple ways to act. We can either be depressed and frustrated, or we can devote ourselves even more to taking action and finding solutions. “

A screaming siren

Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter described the IPCC findings as a “screaming siren” and a call to action to use solutions already at hand.

The report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underlines what we have heard many times before: It explains how the climate breakdown is rapidly altering Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and frozen poles, causing widespread extreme weather, including severe heatwaves and drought, catastrophic flooding and rising sea levels. It also states that there still are pathways to keep global heating under 1.5°C degrees. 

One of Denmark’s leading climate journalists, Jørgen Steen Nielsen, wrote:

“We have failed. Within the next ten years, the global temperature rise will very likely have exceeded the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C degree target. And no matter how drastically the world sets about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will continue at least until 2040 as a result of what humanity has already pumped into the atmosphere.

In the most bleak scenarios, the global temperature could rise by as much as 4.4°C degrees by the end of this century.

That’s the worrying message in the synthesis report the UN Climate Panel IPCC, which was approved on Sunday evening. It is the sixth major synthesis report since the climate panel’s establishment in 1988, and each time the scientists’ warnings have become more alarming.

“We have lost eight and a half years,” said Matthias Garschagen, IPCC author and climate scientist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, referring to the lack of climate action.”

10 big findings from the IPCC Report

In the wake of the final Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report, experts from the World Resources Institute have summarised the most important findings from the nearly 8,000-page report. Many of the findings in the report are grim, laying out devastating consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions. There is also hope, though, in actions that can reduce emissions and build resilience.

→ World Resources Institute:
10 Big Findings from the 2023 IPCC Report on Climate Change
“The report identifies readily available, and in some cases, highly cost-effective actions that can be undertaken now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scale up carbon removal and build resilience. While the window to address the climate crisis is rapidly closing, the IPCC affirms that we can still secure a safe, livable future. Here are 10 key findings you need to know.”

“In short, the IPCC – which always errs on the conservative side – said with high confidence that we’re going to be trapped in an unlivable world unless we break society’s addiction to fossil fuels.”
~ Emily Atkin

“The political silence following the #IPCCReport proves that our ‘leaders’ role isn’t to keep us safe. It’s to ensure fossil fuelled psychopaths keep on making as much money as possible.”
~ ClimateDad77

“The 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute 34-45% of global consumption-based emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute 13-15%.”

“The costs of climate action are clearly lower than the damages climate chaos will cause.”

“There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”
~ IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report

“Projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure without additional abatement would exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C,” the report says. Put plainly, that means the oil, gas and coal projects already in operation will blow our chance of limiting heating to 1.5°C, unless some are shut down early or fitted with carbon capture technology that is yet to be proven to work at scale.

Three decades of IPCC warnings, mostly ignored, have brought us to the climate crossroads. As we stand there, perhaps this is the simplest way to state the choice set out by the IPCC for the world’s political and corporate leaders: what price a “sustainable and liveable future for all”?

→ The New Republic – 25 March 2023:
Why Optimism Can’t Fix Our Climate Politics
“This week’s U.N. report shows how hard it is to save the world when capitalism is working against you.”

→ Heatmap – 24 March 2023:
The Fraught Negotiations Behind the New IPCC Report
“How Saudi Arabia, China, and the U.S. tried to weaken language in the climate report.”

→ The Guardian – 21 March 2023:
Humanity at the climate crossroads: highway to hell or a livable future?

“The choice in the new IPCC report is stark: what we do in the next few years will determine our fate for millennia.”

→ The Age – 21 March 2023:
We have everything we need to fix the climate crisis. But we need to do it now
“The UN’s panel on climate change says countries need to rapidly reduce emissions to secure a habitable future for life on Earth.”

→ The Washington Post – 20 March 2023:
World is on brink of catastrophic warming, U.N. climate change report says
“A dangerous climate threshold is near, but ‘it does not mean we are doomed’ if swift action is taken, scientists say.”

→ The New York Times – 20 March 2023:
Climate Change Is Speeding Toward Catastrophe. The Next Decade Is Crucial, U.N. Panel Says.
“A new report says it is still possible to hold global warming to relatively safe levels, but doing so will require global cooperation, billions of dollars and big changes.”


Translating the IPCC report into plain English

The latest IPCC report is essential reading for all climate journalists, but its prose is difficult for non-specialists to decipher. Here are some highlights from the “Summary For Policymakers,” translated into plain English, as well as some notable quotes from climate luminaries, to inform your coverage of this landmark report.

1. “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once.” Borrowing the title of this year’s “Best Picture” Oscar, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that countries must now do “everything, everywhere, all at once” to limit heat-trapping emissions. That means, per the International Energy Agency, zero new oil, gas, or coal development. This scientific imperative is being flouted by the world’s two leading climate superpowers, as the US just approved the massive Willow oil project in Alaska and China last year authorized construction of 106 gigawatts worth of new coal plants. Meanwhile, that movie title also applies to the impacts of climate change, which this report documents are also striking “everything, everywhere, all at once.”

2. Climate solutions, climate justice, and climate speed are key themes of the report. If we “act now,” says IPCC chair Hoesung Lee, we have the solutions “to secure a livable, sustainable future for all.” But we must act today, not tomorrow. And we must be guided by fairness. Almost half of the world’s population lives in places that are “highly vulnerable to climate change,” where “deaths from floods, drought, and storms [have been] 15 times higher” than elsewhere.

3. Here is a quote on justice from the report, followed by a translation into plain English:

IPCC quote: “Increasing weather and climate extreme events have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water security, with the largest adverse impacts observed in many locations and/or communities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, LDCs, Small Islands and the Arctic, and globally for Indigenous Peoples, small-scale food producers and low-income households.”

CCNow translation: People are starving, now, because of climate change, especially in poor countries throughout the Global South.

4. Many scientists and officials stress that this report also offers hope. This is not mere PR or wishful thinking: Limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is still technically feasible.

IPCC quote: “Deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a discernible slowdown in global warming within around two decades….”

CCNow translation: Global temperatures will stop rising if we slash heat-trapping emissions, starting now.

5. Success requires ample funding for much stronger action in developing countries.

IPCC quote: “The adoption of low-emission technologies lags in most developing countries, particularly least developed ones…. If climate goals are to be achieved, both adaptation and mitigation financing would need to increase many-fold. There is sufficient global capital to close the global investment gaps but there are barriers to redirect capital to climate action.”

CCNow translation: The world has plenty of money to tackle this problem, but Global North countries and institutions must finally fulfill their legal obligation to provide $100 billion in annual climate aid — and much more than that going forward.

6. Slashing emissions alone won’t suffice; removing CO2 from the atmosphere is now also essential.

IPCC quote: “Reaching net zero GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions primarily requires deep reductions in CO2, methane, and other GHG emissions, and implies net-negative CO2 emissions. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will be necessary to achieve net-negative CO2 emissions.”

CCNow translation: Zeroing out emissions is the first, second, and third order of business. But that will only stabilize the concentration of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere, currently at 420 parts per million. Remaining at that level would result in massive amounts of sea level rise in the coming centuries, so ways must be found to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, whether through natural methods (i.e. plants and soil) or artificial ones (e.g., limestone extraction). Here, be careful not to conflate the scientific imperative of carbon dioxide removal with carbon capture and storage, which is an economic choice that enables continued fossil fuel burning.

7. So-called “overshoot” of the 1.5-degree-C target is very possible but must be absolutely minimized: 1.6 degrees C is safer than 1.7.

IPCC quote: “If warming exceeds a specified level such as 1.5°C, it could gradually be reduced again by achieving and sustaining net negative global CO2 emissions. This would require additional deployment of carbon dioxide removal .… Overshoot entails adverse impacts, some irreversible, and additional risks for human and natural systems, all growing with the magnitude and duration of overshoot.”

CCNow translation: Because humanity didn’t act sooner, carbon dioxide removal will be necessary to keep future temperature rise as close to 1.5 degrees C as possible. But every fraction of a degree boosts the risks of catastrophic and irrevocable impacts.

8. Finally, can you guess what — or, actually, who — is NOT mentioned in this report? Why, the companies that caused the problem — and then lied about it for decades to forestall remedies. Here’s the closest the report comes to naming the elephant in the room:

IPCC quote: “Ambitious mitigation pathways imply large and sometimes disruptive changes in existing economic structures….”

CCNow translation: Climate survival requires swiftly phasing out all oil, gas, and coal burning. But the business plans of ExxonMobil and other companies call for continuing fossil fuel production for decades to come. Journalists can bring heft to their coverage by asking these companies how they square those business plans with this latest summary of climate science, which Secretary-General Guterres hails as “a how-to guide to defuse the climate time bomb.”

The final section of the UN’s Sixth Assessment Cycle into climate change is complete. The report shows the world is likely to hit 1.5 degrees warming by 2040, but that can still be reversed. The report confirms fossil fuels are overwhelmingly to blame and impacts are already hitting hard. New technology to remove carbon will be needed to hit Paris targets.

→ Sydney Morning Herald – 21 March 2022:
We have everything we need to fix the climate crisis. But we need to do it now
“Humanity has a last-ditch chance to make meaningful cuts to greenhouse gases and secure a habitable future for life on Earth and our actions this decade will have profound consequences for thousands of years, says the definitive report on climate change.”

→ ABC News – 21 March 2023:
IPCC climate scientists issue ‘a survival guide for humanity’, warning window closing to reduce emissions
“The IPCC says it’s “unequivocal” that climate is changing as a result of human activity. At present, between 3.3 and 3.6 billion people are living in places “highly vulnerable” to climate change. Meanwhile, the UN has called on developed countries to phase out coal by 2030.”

Feeling anxious?

“If the IPCC report has you feeling anxious, I recommend listening to this NPR Life Kit story or watching psychologist Renee Lertzman’s TED Talk about how to manage climate anxiety first. Then, make a decision to bring climate change up in your conversations this week.”
~ Katharine Hayhoe, American climate scientist

IPCC latest report reaffirms urgency to phase out fossil fuels to tackle climate emergency

Synthesis Report and Summary for Policymakers show that staying below 1.5ºC of global heating requires immediate and rapid action to end global dependency on coal, oil and gas

Fossil Fuel Treaty reaction to IPCC Synthesis Report

Interlaken, Switzerland The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released this Monday 20th its Synthesis Report of the Sixth Assessment Cycle and its Summary for Policymakers, which once again stresses the scientific consensus that limiting global heating to 1.5°C to contain worst-case climate change scenarios is only possible with the constraint of fossil fuel production. The report is the latest of the AR6 products, which have provided policymakers with the most comprehensive assessment of scientific information related to climate change in the history of the IPCC, and aims to inform the 2023 Global Stocktake. 

Among other statements, the Summary for Policymakers notes that “Projected cumulative future CO2 emissions over the lifetime of existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure, if historical operating patterns are maintained and without additional abatement are approximately equal to the one for 2°C (83%) (high confidence)”, and that “Removing fossil fuel subsidies will reduce emissions and yield benefits such as improved public revenue, macroeconomic and sustainability performance.”

Alex Rafalowicz, Executive Director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said: “In simple terms, the IPCC says once again that the coal, oil, and gas we already have under production will blow us past our climate goals. The summary for policymakers is simple: stop new fossil fuel projects, phase down existing polluting projects, put renewable energy access into hyperdrive. The science is unequivocal, the problem is the lack of political will that prevents us from acting boldly to reverse this crisis.”

Tzeporah Berman, Chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and International Program Director at Stand.earth, said: “This latest report could not make it clearer: the time is now for bold actions that directly address the climate crisis in an effective way. Coal, oil and gas continue to fuel the climate catastrophe, causing widespread devastation in vulnerable regions like the Pacific, where extreme weather events occur regularly and will become even more frequent. Millions of people across the globe are losing their homes, their lives and livelihoods because of the continued expansion of these dirty energies. Our governments must stop pretending that we can ensure public safety while we continue to expand fossil fuels. They must stop allowing big oil and gas companies to make record profits over destructive impacts to our communities and our environment. This IPCC report once again throws reality in our faces: our house is on fire, so it is past time for world leaders to stand up to their responsibilities and stop pouring gas to fuel the fire. We call on our governments to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative to compliment the Paris Agreement.” 

For decades, the IPCC has highlighted the scientific basis that proves the urgency of phasing out fossil fuels. Previous reports from the same cycle note that “the achievement of long-term temperature goals in line with the Paris Agreement requires the rapid penetration of renewable energy and a timely phasing out of fossil fuels”, and that this is “technically possible and estimated to be relatively low in cost.” However, current international climate agreements took decades to make even a small mention of fossil fuels, and yet they continue to fail to address them.

These latest IPCC warnings come in a very timely context: a key year for climate action, after major oil and gas companies announced record profits, having for the first time a CEO of a major oil company appointed president of the COP, and only a few days after Ministers and officials from a block of six Pacific countries – Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Niue, and the Solomon Islands – committed to create a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific”, and called for all countries to join them in leading the creation of a global alliance to negotiate a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to govern the end to fossil fuel expansion, equitable phase out of fossil fuels, and a global just transition. The commitment was agreed at the 2nd Pacific Ministerial Dialogue on Pathways for the Global Just Transition from Fossil Fuels, held in Vanuatu during a state of emergency after the country was hit by two severe cyclones and an earthquake in only 48 hours. 

None of this is coincidental. Science has been sounding the alarm bells for decades, governments of the most vulnerable nations are moving to protect their economies and populations. Meanwhile, rich nations are still lagging to stand up to their responsibilities, and the fossil industry is allowed to continue operating and producing the very cause of the problem.

Hon Ralph Regenvanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation & External Trade for the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, said: “More than ever, science is clear about the need to move away from fossil fuels. If we don’t act fast to tackle the source of this crisis, the loss and damage that my people just experienced with cyclones Judy and Kevin will continue to occur with even greater force and costs. The IPCC notes that staying within a 1.5oC temperature rise is only achievable with urgent action to phase out coal, oil and gas. That’s why my home country of Vanuatu was the first to endorse the call for a Fossil Fuel Treaty, and we just had a block of 6 Pacific nations committing to spearhead global fossil fuel phase-out effort. Only this will lead us to drastic cuts in emissions and a just transition to clean and accessible energy for all.”

Edmilson Rodrigues, Mayor of Belém, Brazil, said: “The IPCC report clearly indicates that, in order to accelerate the reduction of emissions, there is no place for fossil fuels in our world. We join our voices with all governments and organizations calling for a Fossil Fuel Treaty as a way to end this era of coal, oil and gas supremacy.”

Firhad Hakim, Mayor of Kolkata, India, said: “Science has clearly and repeatedly rang the alarm bells that staying below 1.5ºC to avoid the worst scenarios of the climate emergency requires immediate and rapid action to end the use of fossil fuels. We need a rapid and equitable phase out of all kinds of fossil fuels to protect millions of people from energy and food insecurity, air pollution and impacts to health. Developing countries are the most vulnerable to climate change, despite us having historically contributed the least to the crisis. Kolkata has already announced its pledge to minimize the use of fossil fuel as much as possible and switch over to renewable energy.”

Leaders continue to fail

“I had never seen such an explosion of coverage on the climate crisis than when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a 2018 report telling leaders they had only 10 years to get their shit together and cut emissions before locking in a future where warming would only get worse.  We live in a world where what the media covers informs our worldviews and governments. I remember feeling impressed by this body I had never heard of. I felt grateful for its urgent message. Fast forward to the present, I feel disappointed. Not by the IPCC but by the world’s apathy to its conclusions. The panel’s messages have grown only more dire, yet leaders continue to fail. They continue to kneel before the fossil fuel industry. They continue to sacrifice communities that have suffered enough.”

“Last week, President Joe Biden approved the Willow project, a giant oil project in Alaska that would add the same amount of emissions as if the government had approved some 70 coal-fired power plants.”

~ Yessenia Funes, Climate Director, Atmos

Systemic underpinnings must be changed

“Why do our world leaders do nothing as we continue to accelerate on this “highway to hell”? The answer is quite simple: our system is designed to grow the monetary economy above all else, extract from the living Earth and exploit people everywhere — and suck the wealth created up to the elites at the very top.

It will continue to do so until the systemic underpinnings are themselves changed. I believe one of our major tasks here at the Deep Transformation Network is to communicate that basic uncomfortable reality as clearly as possible.

Hope still exists — but not through tweaking a system hell-bent on planetary destruction.”

~ Jeremy Lent, Founder and Host, Deep Transformation Network