The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change” report in April of this year. This is the 6th cycle for this ambitious, detailed effort that IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee claims “gives us options” and “offers strategies to answer the critical questions of our time.” But does it tell us any more than we already knew, and more importantly, does it tell us how to get there?
A truly global scientific endeavor. The IPCC is made of three “Working Groups” each with a focused mission: Working Group I “assesses the physical science of climate change” and Working Group II “assesses impacts and vulnerabilities.” Working Group III, which issued this report, focuses on “mitigation” or how to lessen the impact of climate change.
This Mitigation report was five years in the making, starting in 2017. It involved 278 authors from 65 countries, culminating in a 2,913-page beast of a final “draft.” Neither the full report, nor the 64-page “summary for policy makers” is easy to read. They are densely written, layered with footnotes (at the top of many pages!) and use many acronyms. This is unfortunate, as they are important documents containing vital information but are inaccessible for most readers.
The maximum temperature change that the world’s most vulnerable people can withstand and still have a chance that their communities will be intact is considered to be 1.5 degrees Celsius cumulative warming over pre-industrial levels (in 1850). Exceeding this target would leave communities ravaged by dangerous weather, flooding, or rising sea levels. This target was enshrined in an international agreement signed by 192 countries at the Paris Climate Accords of 2015 and went into effect in 2016. The Paris Agreement says that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions driving temperature change must be on a downward trajectory by 2030.
The IPCC’s Mitigation report reviews the mathematical modeling of several scenarios for the earth’s temperature change — from 1.5 degrees Celsius all the way up to four degrees! As if 1.5 degrees isn’t scary enough, four degrees is truly disturbing. The authors label the amount of GHG emissions allowable to stay under the 1.5 degree target a “budget” that must not be overspent.
The world is “not on track” to limit the change to 1.5 degrees. In fact, 42% of the world’s cumulative emissions occurred in the past 30 years (1990 to 2019). And it’s not slowing down, with a 17% increase in the past 10 years! According to the Mitigation report, GHG emissions must peak by 2025, only 36 months from now, and must decline by 43% from then on for us to hit the 1.5-degree target by 2030. With current practices there is literally no chance that will happen. Without immediate mitigation, temperatures will increase by three or more degrees!
No solutions just academics. The working group which produced the mitigation section of the IPCC report outlines the changes that can lessen the environmental impact of humans in a clinical tone — if we take this action, X will happen, otherwise Y will happen. All of the actions that can help to solve this problem are already well known. The list includes: a huge reduction of fossil fuels and a shift to renewable energy; massive use of public transportation; redesign of cities; halt of deforestation and increased reforestation; reuse of materials to make things; and a shift in diet that requires less use of land.
But none of these solutions will magically happen. With competing global capitalists and the governments that enable them at the helm, they definitely won’t. Corporations and governments are currently leading us down the path the IPCC says will cause us to blow way past the 1.5 degree target.
At the end of 2021, a group of radical scientists from Working Group III leaked their unofficial version of this report where they harshly criticized the current incremental path and reliance on corporations going greener. Their fighting spirit was completely stripped from the final Mitigation report, but they are right. Big Oil, Pharma, and Agriculture will not voluntarily give up their profits. The solution that can give life on Earth a chance for survival is the fastest possible end to the capitalist system. Only through determined planning and cooperation of the world’s working people can we hope to turn this thing around and create a better future.
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