The IPCC sixth assessment report released last month marks a turning point in our understanding of the causes of climate change and its impact on the world as we know it.
The recent report looks at the progression of climate change since before the Industrial Revolution. In an effort to reduce global warming and the negative impacts that result, the IPCC's latest report also assessed the actions responsible for climate change, building on research over time to identify the causes and potential solutions.
In 1995 the IPCC published a report stating there was evidence to suggest humans had a discernible influence on the world's warming. By 2014, the report insisted that human impact was clear. And now, nearly 30 years on, the phrase 'human influence' is used 434 times. As the evidence is unequivocal, humanity is responsible for global warming. This also means we are the ones that need to fix it.
If you attempted to read the report, you would have noticed that it is nearly 4000 pages long and filled with jargon. This post gives some context surrounding the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report and elaborates on five key takeaways.
What is the IPCC's report?
Let's begin by understanding what the IPCC is. The IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation WMO in 1988, it represents a collection of the world's leading climate experts charged with investigating and reporting on the health of Earth's climate.
Over 14,000 climate scientists and researchers contributed to the making of this report, and its publication concludes eight years of work, building on more than three decades of research before that.
Moving to the report's content, we have compiled some key takeaways, minus the carbon jargon.
What does the report tell us?
1. The climate crisis is definitely down to human activity.
We started the fire. Human activity has unequivocally warmed the climate. This assessment is based on historical warming data. The science behind these datasets has vastly increased over the last decade, leading to far greater accuracy and understanding of the climate system's response to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
2. There is still hope if we act now.
Global surface temperatures will reach 1.5°C above 1850 levels by 2040 at the current rate of activity. We are already at 1.2°C. That's ten years sooner than previously predicted.
We will not elaborate on the devastating consequences of climate change as we are bombarded by apocalyptic news and images daily. Instead, we are going to focus on what we can do about it.
There is still an opportunity to limit global warming if we act faster, reduce our reduction timelines and invest in climate action at a corporate, national and international level. Global emissions must be halved by 2030 in order to keep warming at Paris-agreed levels.
3. Net-zero is not the end destination.
Reducing global carbon emissions and reaching net-zero is crucial, but that being said, net-zero carbon is not the end destination. The report stipulates that net-zero carbon by 2050 should be the minimum target to deliver a 1.5°C world. We also need to look beyond carbon and ensure that other greenhouse gas emissions, like methane, are accounted for and reduced dramatically.
4. Setting science-based targets should be a prerequisite to the net-zero movement.
To effectively reduce carbon emissions, third party authenticating bodies like the Science-Based Targets Initiative should be a prerequisite to the net-zero movement. Businesses and governments should no longer rely on long term net-zero goals. Carbon reduction strategies need to be backed up with short-term plans to decarbonise over the coming decades, aligned with scientific advice.
5. Accurate carbon data and complete carbon accounting are crucial.
Creative carbon accounting practices are not uncommon both at the business and government levels. This results from a lack of granularity of data and emission factors or the omission of supply chain emissions known as Scope 3 under the GHG Protocol. Indeed, accurate carbon data and complete carbon accounting are crucial to effectively reducing emissions and gaining from the business efficiencies. Accurate carbon data enables better business decisions in the short and long term.
In summary, we are responsible for climate change. We need to act now if we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Putting an end to creative carbon accounting is a good starting point because with accurate data comes better decision-making that may just save people, the planet and your company's profits.