New IPCC report on climate change is a call to action


Latest IPCC report confirms we can no longer waste time procrastinating or finding new excuses not to act, including empty promises of net zero by 2050

Six pregnant women laid bare their baby bumps in London on August 1, 2021, demanding an end to fossil fuels and a future for their unborn children. Photo: Gareth Morris for Extinction Rebellion @XRphotos / Twitter

There is no more “maybe”. The threat of climate change is real; the dangers are imminent and the future is dire. This message from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report confirms what we already know and can see in the world around us – forest fires due to extreme heat and loss of ‘humidity ; devastating floods due to extreme rainfall events and tropical cyclones due to temperature changes between the sea and the land surface.

The future is here and it should worry us a lot. Indeed, this report, coming from the normally conventional and conformist world of button-down scientists, should frighten us and spur us to action – real and meaningful.

There are some key takeaways from the report. First, it is now clear that the world could be heading for a 1.5 degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2040. This means that the guardrail of what is relatively safe could be broken over the next two decades. .

Given that we are already witnessing enormous full-scale devastation with a current temperature rise of just 1.09oC of the 1880s – the time of the industrial revolution – we must understand how urgent and urgent this call of science is.

Second, IPCC scientists no longer hesitate to tell us clearly that climate change is caused by human activities. In fact, they go so far as to “attribute” climate change to specific extreme weather impacts.

This is important because so far we have only been able to understand the impacts of climate change in terms of the increased frequency of such events around the world. But now we know with more certainty the role of climate change in, say, the extreme heat episode in Canada or the forest fires in Greece or the flooding in Germany. No more ifs or buts.

The question is whether we are listening. If action is taken on the scale and pace needed. It still does not happen.

And this is where we must understand the third major highlight of the IPCC report. Science tells us that the relative efficiency of sinks – the natural cleaning system of land, oceans, forests and soils, will decline in the years to come as emissions continue to rise.

Today, oceans, land and forests together absorb about 50% of the emissions we put into the atmosphere each year. In other words, without these sinks, we would have already exceeded 1.5oC warming now.

But what this report also tells us is that we cannot “bank” on sinks to clean up emissions in the future at the same rate. This means that countries’ net zero plans will have to be reviewed.

As part of the net zero plan, countries like the United States (by 2050) and China (by 2060) have said their emissions will remain below what their terrestrial sinks or carbon capture technologies will be able to clean.

Now, if we take into account what the IPCC is saying, then the sinks have reached their tipping point – and countries will have to work even harder to plant more trees to even sequester carbon dioxide (CO2), forget about d ‘add to the wells to make Continuation.

Therefore, this report from world scientists must be a wake-up call. We can no longer waste time procrastinating or finding new excuses not to act, including empty promises of net zero by 2050. It is time to get serious and start meaningful action today. in the field.

The good news is that technologies are available to disrupt the current industrial system based on fossil fuels. We don’t have to wait for disruptive technologies. Instead, we need to be disruptive in action. The problem is that even today the action on the ground is too weak and too late.

In fact, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will increase as economies, hit by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, rush to return to normal. Every country is desperate to turn around and that means doing whatever can be done with the current brown economy – including the use of coal, gas and oil and domestic manufacturing – to accelerate growth as quickly as possible. possible.

The science is also clear. The world must reduce GHG emissions by 45-50% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. In other words, we need transformational action, not globalization. ‘a tiny bit from new cars to electric vehicles by 2030., or stop coal but then switch to natural gas, which is also a fossil fuel. We need firm and drastic action.

This is where scientists, being scientists, cannot articulate the most troublesome of troublesome truths. There is no doubt that the main contributors to climate change are a handful of countries – the United States and China together account for about half of the world’s annual emissions.

If you add up the emissions from 1870 to 2019, the US, EU-27, Russia, UK, Japan and China contribute 60% of the global carbon dioxide budget. However, the IPCC tells us that this budget itself is even more limited. So consider pure iniquity. But also consider where it is necessary to act.

If you even take the Paris targets, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of these countries, then by 2030 they will increase their share of the budget to 68%, not decrease it as needed and provide space for the rest. of the world. grow.

Indeed, their targets are extremely low and disproportionate to the contribution to the problem and that China will increase its share of CO2 emissions – from 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt / CO2) to 12 Gt / CO2 per year over the next decade. .

This is where we need to discuss India. We would like to sit on the polluters table – and technically India is the third biggest annual CO2 polluter in the world (fourth if you take the EU-27 as a group). But the magnitude of our contribution is so insignificant that it cannot be compared.

Between 1870 and 2019, India’s share in the global CO2 budget is around 3%. While China emits around 10 Gt / CO2 and the United States 5Gt / CO2; India emits some 2.6 Gt / CO2 per year. And even if you take the status quo scenario of India, we will still emit less than what the United States emits today – a third of China in 2030.

But that doesn’t mean India shouldn’t act. In fact, it is in our best interest to take action to tackle climate change, quickly and on a large scale. First, we are already seeing the worst impacts of climate change hitting our people – extreme rains, cloud shards, flooding and rising temperatures.

Second, we can take action because we have a tremendous opportunity to reinvent the way we do things – from the way we practice mobility in our cities and the way we build homes with thermal comfort to the way we give access to affordable energy for the rural poor.

For us, action against climate change stems from self-interest and co-benefits – reducing local air pollution and, in this way, also reducing GHG emissions.

And, I have to say it clearly: we are not following the rhetoric on this. The Indian government is optimistic that it will do more than other countries in terms of comparable action to reduce CO2 emissions.

But the point is, we don’t have measurable targets for reducing emissions and that’s why, we’re doing well – our NDC is to reduce not absolute emissions but the emissions intensity of our economy. In this way, we cannot and should not brag about our action on climate change.

We can only say that we are doing as little as necessary in terms of responsibility or contributing to CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, which requires very little of us. In these times of climate risk, where science has a harsh and uncompromising message, this is simply not enough.

The point is that climate change requires effective global leadership. And one thing we also know from our pathetic track record of delivering vaccines to everyone around the world is that global leadership is at its lowest point in human history – at least in our lifetime. .

Climate change is one more global crisis that requires a global response – we cannot win it without everyone’s cooperation and this requires climate justice for all.

But as with the war we are losing on virus and variants, climate change is also a great leveler – today not only the poor are affected by extreme weather events, but the rich as well. So we have to act. And act quickly and together. Science has spoken. Now the action must follow.

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