In a controversial move, the UN chief today called on polluting developed nations like the UK to “fast-forward” their net-zero emissions target a decade to 2040, warning that the “climate time bomb is ticking”.
The most comprehensive review of the state of climate change to date paints a bleak picture of humanity’s failure to address climate change and warns that the window to ensure a “livable and sustainable future” is “rapidly closing”.
But climate scientists agree that there is still hope.
Today’s report from the UN’s IPCC is the culmination of eight years of work by hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists, summarizing six underlying reports.
The final sign-off by governments has been repeatedly delayed as rich and developing nations battle over emissions targets and financial aid for vulnerable nations.
The last such report in 2014 paved the way for the ambitious Paris Agreement the following year.
With the next event of its kind not coming until 2030, this is effectively the last collective warning and action plan for scientists, and 1.5°C warming is still far away — albeit only just at the beginning.
Key findings of the IPCC report
- Human activities have “clearly” warmed the planet by 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels.
- Emissions must fall by 48% by 2030 – the first time such an audacious target has been signed into a global political document.
- Climate risks make things like epidemics or conflicts worse.
- Emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure alone will exceed the agreed 1.5°C warming target unless they are captured by technologies that remain at risk.
- Global sea levels have risen by an average of 20 centimeters.
- At least 3.3 billion people are “highly vulnerable” to effects such as “severe food insecurity” and water stress.
- Extreme heat has claimed lives in every region.
- Disadvantaged communities that have historically contributed the least are disproportionately affected.
“Hope not to despair”
In the year since the last report in this series was published, the world has suffered floods in pakistan, drought in the northern hemisphere and a Hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa – all made worse by climate change.
But amid bleak warnings of lost jobs, homes, crops and lives, scientists insist there is still reason for hope.
IPCC Chair Professor Hoesung Lee paints a picture of a “livable, sustainable future for all” – but only if we “act now”.
“We should be quite anxious,” said Professor Emily Shuckburgh from the University of Cambridge, who recently co-authored a book on climate change with King Charles but was not involved in the report.
“But hope, not despair,” she added, stressing that the IPCC said it was still possible to limit warming to the agreed safe threshold of 1.5°C.
U.N.’s latest climate warning: Channel Hollywood
Changing the way we eat, travel, heat our homes and use land can all reduce climate-heating gases while reducing air pollution, improving health and increasing employment, the report said.
And there is enough global capital to quickly cut climate warming pollution.
“Not despair, but hope, because there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Dr Friedrich Otto, a senior lecturer and member of the core writing team at Imperial College London.
“But we don’t need to research any new magical inventions for the next 30 years or so. We have the knowledge…but we also need to implement it.”
“Wolf is coming”
But with the window for action closing “quickly”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will today try to put pressure on rich countries to make up for lost time.
In 2018, the IPCC warned loudly that “the scale of the challenge needed to keep warming to 1.5°C is unprecedented”.
Five years later, it said, the challenge was “even greater” due to a failure to adequately reduce emissions.
“Leaders of developed countries must commit to achieving net zero emissions wherever possible by 2040,” Mr Guterres is expected to say soon.
“It can be done,” he would add, adding an address when he released the report, which he called “a guide to defusing the climate time bomb.”
“It is only fair that Guterres sets more ambitious goals for rich countries that can transition more quickly and grow rich by burning fossil fuels,” said Mohamed Addo, head of the think tank Power Shift Africa.
But the proposal could spark some backlash for the apparent movement of the goalposts. Countries are already working towards the previously agreed target of net zero emissions by 2050.
Asked about the proposed date change, a UK government spokesman said: “Today’s report clearly shows that countries around the world must work towards more ambitious climate commitments.”
The UK is currently not even on track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, according to an independent assessment last week, with the latest budget criticized for inadequate climate policy.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “Forget about distant tropical islands and future generations – we’ve seen what 40C summers and flash floods look like in the UK already. Right at the door.”
The Fossil Fuel Battlefield at COP28
The COP28 climate summit will be held in the United Arab Emirates in December.
The findings of the latest IPCC report should inform climate negotiations in Dubai.
This year’s summit is seen as particularly important as it provides a “global stocktake” of progress countries have made since the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Observers noted that governments around the world have signed off on today’s release of the scientific conclusions, which include a call for a “dramatic reduction in the use of fossil fuels”.
The required approval process in all countries is designed to ensure that governments act on content.
However, some countries have resisted such language in other forums, such as the more political COP climate summit, where oil and gas nations last year blocked Egypt’s commitment to “phasically reduce all fossil fuels” in the final COP27 agreement.
“By signing the IPCC report, all governments, even those in high-emitting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Australia, the US and the UAE, are acknowledging that climate change is a real danger,” said Richard Black of energy think-tank ECIU.
The UN hopes to reach a similar agreement in December – which needs to generate meaningful action.
Watch the Daily Climate Show Monday to Friday at 3.30pm and Tom Shipp’s Climate Show Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm and 7.30pm.
All on Sky News, Sky News website and app, YouTube and Twitter.
The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.