It’s entirely by chance that Wanstead Climate Action is holding a public meeting about the climate crisis on the day that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases the final report in its Sixth Assessment Cycle. We could almost guess the broad conclusions though: Are things bad and getting worse? Yes. Are governments doing anything like enough? No (that’s not strictly a scientific question, but economists also make evaluations.) Are there things we can do to avoid some of the future catastrophe? Yes, absolutely.
A few things from superficially skimming today: hope and a warning that current action is insufficient to ‘tackle climate change’; ‘we are walking when we should be sprinting’; the UN secretary-general saying that developed countries like the UK should aim for net zero (at least CO₂) by 2040, and a journalist asking IPCC Chair Hoesun Lee if that was consistent with the report: Lee says yes. There’s a new phrase ‘climate resilient development’, mixing mitigation (reducing emissions) and adaptation, observing that people in poorer countries are still fifteen times more likely to die in an environmental disaster. And an author employing Douglas Adams’s phrase ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’, to say this is our problem; yes, governments have to make it easier, but ultimately we all need to take responsibility.
I intend to write my own two-paragraph summary, of the summary (SPM) of the summary (SYR) of the last nine years of IPCC volunteers summarising scientific evidence for special and assessment reports, below. In the meantime, here is: the SPM (the full SYR seems to be delayed) press release and headline statements, the graphics that always try to fit in a lot of useful information, the rather glitchy press conference, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s remarks, rather superficial introduction from New Scientist, World Resources Institute, BBC story… we could of course go on.
I (CK) have been an avid watcher of the IPCC since around 2013 (when also I read two books explaining the problem is the fossil fuel industry, The Burning Question and Merchants of Doubt). So I’ve at least skimmed the SPM for ‘SR15′, the special report called for at the time of the Paris Agreement that really added the current sense of urgency to realising how much there was to lose before we reached 2 °C of warming, and how much was needed to prevent it, introducing ways of removing carbon like BECCS; the two special reports on oceans and on land, which showed intense competition for land between increasingly unreliable agricultural yields, BECCS and still leaving space for nature; the longer technical summary of the Physical Science Basis which was unequivocal about how the world is warming, narrowed the range of climate sensitivity and presented ; last years’ two reports on effects on nature and adaptation (WG2) and mitigation (WG3), which actually also included some options to deal with fossil fuel obstructionism and institutional inertia; all of which are summarised in the report today.
So I recall the equivalent point in 2014, when the excellent SYnthesis Report was trailed with a headline that the cost of climate action was a small fraction of 1% of GDP. So I was expecting more discussion of the economics, land presure and. how bad ‘overshoot’ is by causing extinctions in the meantime. Today, Lee says there is no doubt there are economic benefits to taking action. But because we’ve delayed, the amount of work and urgency is that much greater.