World’s top climate scientists issue ‘survival guide for humanity,’ call for major course correction

World’s top climate scientists issue ‘survival guide for humanity,’ call for major course correction

A local reacts to watching a wildfire advancing in Orjais, Covilha council in central Portugal, on August 16, 2022.

Patricia De Melo Moreira | Afp | Getty Images

A landmark U.N. report published Monday urged governments across the globe to embark on an urgent course correction to tackle the climate emergency, warning current plans were insufficient to prevent the worst of what the crisis has in store.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the unprecedented challenge of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels had become even greater in recent years due to the relentless increase in global greenhouse gas emissions.

This has resulted in more frequent and more intense extreme weather events that have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world, the report said.

Deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emission reductions across all sectors will be necessary if warming is to be limited by 1.5 degrees Celsius, the report says, noting that global emissions should already be decreasing and will need to be slashed almost in half by 2030.

The 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature threshold is widely recognized as crucial because so-called tipping points become more likely beyond this level. Tipping points are thresholds at which small changes can lead to dramatic shifts in Earth’s entire life support system.

“Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits,” IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said in a statement.

“This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all.”

In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.

António Guterres

U.N. Secretary-General

The IPCC’s Synthesis Report, approved during a week-long session in Interlaken, Switzerland, provides world leaders with a gold-standard summation of modern climate science. It is the first comprehensive report from the U.N. climate panel since the 2015 Paris Agreement and marks the closing chapter of the group’s sixth assessment cycle.

The findings, distilled from over 10,000 pages of research from six assessment reports, are expected to serve as a manual for tackling the climate emergency.

“The climate time bomb is ticking. But today’s IPCC report is a how-to guide to defuse the climate time bomb. It is a survival guide for humanity,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday.

“As it shows, the 1.5-degree limit is achievable. But it will take a quantum leap in climate action.” Guterres described the report as a “clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe.”

He added, “In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”

Speaking at a news conference, the U.N. chief announced a plan to “super-charge” climate efforts through an “all-hands-on-deck Acceleration Agenda.”

This initiative must see governments “hitting the fast-forward button” on their net zero deadlines, Guterres said, with rich countries urged to commit to reaching net zero as close as possible to 2040 and emerging economies called on to reach net zero by 2050.

COP28 climate summit

The IPCC said Monday that there is more than enough global capital to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions if existing barriers are removed.

The role of policymakers across the globe, the report’s authors say, is crucial in reducing these barriers, while investors, central banks and financial regulators can also “play their part.”

“Today’s message from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis report is abundantly clear: we are making progress, but not enough,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said in a statement.

“We have the tools to stave off and reduce the risks of the worst impacts of the climate crisis, but we must take advantage of this moment to act now,” Kerry said.

The report’s findings also highlight the losses and damages the world is already experiencing — and will likely continue to face in the absence of effective climate action.

“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” said Aditi Mukherji, one of the 93 authors of this Synthesis Report.

“Almost half of the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change. In the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions,” she added.

A vehicle drives past a dry, cracked lake bed on its way to Boulder Harbour in drought-stricken Lake Mead on September 15, 2022 in Boulder City, Nevada.

Frederic J. Brown | Afp | Getty Images

The IPCC’s latest report comes ahead of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in November.

Each year, ministers representing countries across the globe gather at COP to discuss how to achieve the aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement — curbing global heating to just 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The world has already warmed by around 1.1 degrees Celsius, scientists say, after over a century of burning fossil fuels as well as unequal and unsustainable energy and land use.

The Dubai climate summit will see the U.N. publish a “global stocktake,” the result of a two-year process that started at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. The purpose of which will be to assess how governments are doing with their efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

Speaking in France’s capital earlier this month, COP President-Designate Sultan al-Jaber said the conclusions of this assessment were already clear. “We are way off track,” al-Jaber said. “The bottom line is this: the world needs to cut emissions by 43% in the next seven years to keep 1.5 alive.”

Al-Jaber, who serves as the chief executive of one of the world’s biggest oil companies, was seen as a controversial choice to lead the COP28 climate talks in Dubai. He has since called on the energy industry to “up its game” to reduce emissions.

‘Now or never’ territory

Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, is the chief driver of the climate emergency.

To limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the International Energy Agency has previously warned that investors should not fund any new fossil fuel supply projects, while scientific research has suggested that nearly half of existing fossil fuel production sites should be prematurely decommissioned.

Big Oil, meanwhile, raked in record annual profits in 2022 as fossil fuel prices soared following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. At an industry event in Houston, Texas, last month, energy giant executives doubled down on the case for fossil fuels, citing the importance of energy security in the transition.

Nonetheless, climate scientists have warned that the year in which we overshoot 1.5 degrees Celsius could be fast approaching, while the IPCC said in 2022 that humanity had reached “now or never” territory to stave off climate disaster.