Coast KZN

24 Mar 2023

‘Climate time bomb is ticking’ – new IPCC report

Dominic Naidoo (IOL) Picture: Vieriu Adrian via Getty Images. The IPCC concluded in a major report released on March 20, that national governments haven’t done enough to stop global warming in the seven years since they signed the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has once again sounded the alarm after publishing its latest report which shows that we are running out of time, fast. While Putin and Xi shake hands, the West berates, fists in the air, Ramaphosa shuffles and Malema puts his red overalls in the washing machine, the climate is steadily warming with global average temperatures slowly creeping higher.

The latest climate science assessment warns, once again, that global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius would be devastating for Earth’s people and ecosystems. The IPCC concluded in a major report released on March 20 that national governments haven’t done enough to stop global warming in the seven years since they signed the Paris Climate Agreement, and, as a result, the world is running out of options to defuse the “ticking climate time bomb”.

These were the chilling words of United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, describing the report as an urgent call for leaders to decarbonise developed countries by 2040 and developing countries by 2050. The new report shows that “the 1.5-degree limit is achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action”.

“In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts, everything, everywhere, all at once,” he said.

This 6th Assessment Report (AR6) punctuates a periodic cycle of climate science reviews by the IPCC, which was tasked by national governments in 1988 to deliver regular science updates to guide ongoing global climate talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

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

“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.”

The IPCC’s affirmation of the 1.5 degree Celsius target is important in the context of recent studies and news reports suggesting that it’s already too late. But every additional increment of warming will amplify impacts that already threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions worldwide, the report concludes. It cites evidence that global warming drives extreme and deadly climate disasters like “heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones”, the international science panel wrote.

We have seen this with Cyclone Freddy, the longest tropical cyclone in recorded history, as well as with the unprecedented onslaught of rain, snow, landslides and floods currently sweeping through California.

The IPCC’s work is ongoing, with teams of hundreds of scientists, mostly volunteers, analysing thousands of peer-reviewed climate science studies and organising the information in a way intended to be relevant to societies and governments.

Each cycle includes three major reports. The first covers physical science, which shows what causes global warming and how it drives ice melt, sea level rise, droughts, heatwaves and wildfires. The second report shows how that affects people, plants, animals and water and food supply, as well as which areas are most vulnerable and how to adapt. The third report in each cycle focuses on mitigation, which means how to make it stop. I know, it can be a mouthful.

In 2018, the IPCC highlighted the unprecedented scale of the challenge required to keep warming to 1.5°C. Five years later, that challenge has become even greater due to a continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The pace and scale of what has been done so far and current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change. More than a century of burning fossil fuels as well as unequal and unsustainable energy and land use has led to global warming of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels.

All the raw science is distilled into a 40-page summary for policymakers, which will be the new scientific basis for future climate negotiations, starting at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June as well as at COP28 in Dubai, in November this year. The key message remains the same, but the urgency is greater because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase since the last round of reports, all but ensuring that the average global temperature will exceed the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit at least temporarily in the next few years.

Greenpeace climate expert Kaisa Kosonen said after her early review of the new report that “preventing Earth’s temperatures from staying above that level and from climbing even higher requires drastic cuts in emissions from fossil fuels”.

“The fossil fuel reduction numbers have been hidden in many brackets and assumptions; but, what you can conclude is that in pathways that limit warming to 1.5 degree C, the global use of coal is projected to decline by up to 100 percent, oil by up to 90 percent, and gas by up to 85 percent by 2050,” she said.

The researchers said that changes in the food sector, electricity, transport, industry, buildings and land-use can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, they can make it easier for people to lead low-carbon lifestyles, which will also improve health and well-being. A better understanding of the consequences of overconsumption can help people make more informed choices.

Lee added, “Transformational changes are more likely to succeed where there is trust, where everyone works together to prioritise risk reduction and where benefits and burdens are shared equitably.

“We live in a diverse world in which everyone has different responsibilities and different opportunities to bring about change. Some can do a lot while others will need support to help them manage the change.”