The good and the bad in the U.N. IPCC report

The U.N. says we’re running out of time to save the planet, but there’s still an off-ramp before we reach a climate catastrophe. Last Monday, the U.N. released a report synthesizing global knowledge about climate change. The report came to two major conclusions. The first is that we are on track to create irreversible damage to our planet by 2050, and the second is that with drastic action we can start to fix the climate crisis by 2060. The U.N. also has a slideshow summarizing the findings which is easier to understand.

Every couple of years, the U.N. gathers scientists from around the world, including Carnegie Mellon engineering and public policy professor Paulina Jaramillo, to publish an assessment of the state of global knowledge on climate change. This report is issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and it combines scientific, technical, and socio-economic research on climate change to make predictions about the future and recommendations for action. The report combines three working group reports and three special reports that cover climate science, climate impacts, and how to tackle climate change in detail. The report culminates in a synthesis report to summarize the findings, especially for policymakers.

The report concluded that global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees since 1990 because of human action, specifically the burning of fossil fuels. Current predictions are worse than those made in the fifth assessment in 2014, showing how urgently action is needed as the effects of climate change are worse than initially predicted. “The report shows that climate impacts are undermining our livelihoods, they are damaging the global economy, and the impacts threaten our life support system, that of nature itself,” said Dr. Hoesung Lee, chairman of the IPCC, at the press release conference on Monday announcing the synthesis report.

The vast majority of the article focuses on the clear effects of climate change on people, ecosystems, and global economies. Aditi Mukherji, one of the authors states that “climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected.” This is one of the core problems with climate change and the difficulties solving it: the countries doing the most damage are experiencing the smallest repercussions. Between 2010 and 2020, human mortality from natural disasters was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable areas (areas that are already more susceptible to natural disasters like flooding, earthquakes, and droughts) than in low-vulnerability areas.

The report did offer hope, stating that “there are multiple, feasible, and effective options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change” and they are becoming cheaper and more accessible to both developed and developing nations. This would require all nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2035. Cutting greenhouse gases and carbon emissions requires reducing our dependence on them, by switching to electric vehicles and increasing renewable energy use. It also requires improving carbon capture and removal technology to mitigate emissions in sectors that depend heavily on greenhouse gases, like agriculture, aviation, and commerce.

The goal is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which nations agreed on as the limit to avoid worse effects in the 2015 Paris climate summit, and is considered the most extreme point of return. By acting quickly and drastically, nations could achieve “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by around 2050, and the Earth’s temperature would begin to stabilize around a decade later.

Reading about the climate might seem frustrating, but this report shows that there is hope, though drastic action is required to see changes in the future. The report combines global knowledge, making it more concise and accessible to lawmakers and companies, and will serve as the basis for future climate-related negotiations under the United Nations. The upcoming months will be crucial to see changes in law, so we can only hope lawmakers will make the best decision possible.