What does the UN’s most conclusive report on climate change mean for our futures? That’s what I’ve been thinking about since the IPCC Report on Climate Change came out on Monday. It’s shaken up everyone across the news and social media, but how can we individually process it?
I’ve taken a few days to research more into the report, as well as listen to the full IPCC Press Conference, before speaking up on this. Here’s a summary of the IPCC’s findings, as well as ways I think we can act on them…
What Is The IPCC Report?
The IPCC Report (as it has come to be known) is the Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis Report published by UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on August 9th, 2021. The report was created by a team of scientists who studied more than 14,000 scientific papers on climate change. The IPCC report represents a significant step for climate science, confirming that climate change is caused by human activity, and strong, rapid, sustained reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are required to limit global warming.
What Are The Key Findings In The IPCC Report?
The IPCC Report provided four key findings that established a new precedent for how climate change is to be approached by governments, businesses, and citizens around the world:
1. Human Activities Are Causing Climate Change
If you harboured any doubt that climate change is caused by humans, ditch it. This report explicitly states that human activities are causing climate change. As BBC reports, “In strong, confident tones, the IPCC’s document says “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”.”
I’ll be honest, this first finding seemed quite unnecessary to me, but it does give strength to progressing climate negotiations, and moving past climate denialism. As Financial Times writers share in this video, some world leaders deny climate change because they’re “paid to be”, and former US President Donald Trump is a glaring example of this.
This report marks the end of climate change denial. The fossil fuel industry can no longer lobby politicians to deny climate change, and at the same time, we can no longer deny that the backbone of our economy needs to shift, and fast.
2. Climate Change Is Affecting Every Region On Our Planet
The next, more shocking finding is that climate change is affecting every region on Earth. From melting ice caps to rising sea levels, extreme heat in cities to more intense, widespread wildfires, the rise in global temperature is affecting all continents, all countries, and all people.
It is worth noting here that the effect of global warming isn’t consistent across all regions and all peoples, though. Previous research notes that the climate crisis will affect those who suffer from socioeconomic inequalities, including many people of colour, and women, the most.
The key determinant behind this global impact of climate change is the rise in the Earth’s overall temperature. In the Paris Agreement, signatory countries agree to reduce their emissions to ensure this temperature does not rise more than 1.5°C. However, the IPCC Report has found that global warming is heading towards a 3°C increase, double what is being targeted, and at this rate we will see severe and extreme effects worldwide.
3. Extreme Weather Events Will Be More Frequent And Severe
Extreme weather events will be more frequent and severe, if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at the rate we currently do. The IPCC team looked at three different models when forecasting the effects of climate change in years to come, and if greenhouse gas emissions continue as they have been over the last few years, extreme weather events will get worse.
In the UK, we’re already seeing record-breaking heatwaves followed by thunderstorms and flash floods, water shortages in South East England, and even a change in seasonal foods, with cherry season coming early in Kent. And these events pale in comparison to the heatwaves of Southern Europe and Canada, the floods in China, India, and Germany, and the wildfires in Algeria, Australia, and the US.
4. Strong, Rapid, Sustained Reductions In Emissions Is Required To Limit Global Warming
Finding number four is the one we have to act on: strong, rapid, sustained reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emissions. This report calls for fast, brave, long-term change away from our reliance on the fossil fuel industry and its sister industries. If not, we are headed for a true climate crisis.
It’s important to remember that this report does not signify that things are “too late”. If changes are made today, we can still prevent the most extreme effects of climate change from taking place. The report highlights that governments need to prioritise their plans to achieve net zero emissions, as soon as possible. In their press release, the IPCC states: Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.
On the flipside, if we believe that it is too late to do anything, we encourage a continuation of the status quo, and that will lead us to a 3° temperature increase. This mindset is dangerous, but it’s also something we can experience when faced with the climate crisis head-on: “the problem is just so huge that it is nearly unthinkable” says Psychology Today. So how can we manageably navigate to a brighter future?
How Can We Act On The IPCC Report?
No one person can solve the climate crisis. Personally, I believe it takes a collective population practicing sustainability in an imperfect way to get to the point where we not only accept the negative affects of our past reliance on fossil fuels, but also find ways to positively navigate away from them.
1. View yourself as a citizen. Let’s get out of the consumer box that brands and capitalism puts us in. We have more rights than the right to shop. And for those of us who can spend energy on focusing on sustainability, we have a right to do so for ourselves, as well as others who might not share the same level of time, access, education, or privilege.
2. Greenify your habits. I still think there’s something to be said for making sustainable swaps to the things you do most often. Be it taking a reusable bottle to work, or a tote bag to the shop, it all counts, and over time, your positive impact is compounded. By applying a certain level of mindfulness to your habitual behaviours, you will also hopefully make other decisions in a similar way over time. I know I’ve certainly adopted this same mindset across almost my entire lifestyle now!
3. Consider the bigger systems we are part of. Alongside greenifying your habits, consider greenifying the bigger systems you are part of. Consider your workplace, your bank, your pension, your home, and make changes accordingly. If you run projects or have a certain level of oversight in your business, evaluate your impacts against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals too.
4. Campaign for green policies. Educate yourself on what green policies apply to your country, and see how you can support them. Whether it’s signing a petition, voting at the polling station, writing to your MP, or protesting outside your government building, we have to challenge policies that go against the IPCC Report’s recommendations and call out inaction.
5. Engage in the circular economy. Finally, let’s look at how we can build better, sustainable, and more distributive systems moving forwards. Whether you’re looking to go zero waste, or enjoy circular fashion, making the most of items that already exist plays a vital part in our reliance on the planet’s resources, as well as reducing how much we buy and send to landfill and/or pollute.
It’s time to act.