The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 6th Assessment Report on climate change (AR6) published Monday doesn’t pull its punches. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, has described the report as “code red for humanity” – a blunt message indeed from the world’s top diplomat.
Though it has been mentioned in past reports, this time we are left with no doubt by its opening statement: humans are unequivocally responsible for the climate change we are now experiencing.
The report goes on to warn that without immediate reductions in carbon emissions on a massive scale, we are set to miss global warming targets by mid-century. Current carbon-reduction pledges (NDCs) won’t get us there fast enough.
What is more, locked-in risks from historical carbon emissions are already impacting our climate. We are now committed to further warming of our climate regardless of reaching net-zero targets by 2050 – as a result of our emissions to date.
It follows that each tonne of carbon emitted into the atmosphere going forward will only increase the severity of climate events, from rain and flooding, to drought, heatwaves and wildfires.
The impacts are by no means confined to tropical or low-lying areas. The report singles out cities and coastal communities everywhere as the most at-risk from climate change. It is not hard to see from recent news headlines how an increase in extreme weather could inflict severe economic damage.
From adversity to opportunity
It would be wrong, however, to entirely pigeonhole AR6 as a dire warning of a bleak future.
Too much of the climate movement of the past was about what climate change is doing to us, and not about what climate action will do for us. Taking action does not require austerity and scarcity. Done well, it could result in more wealth, more fairness, and better jobs. We already have many of the technologies needed to avert catastrophe. But we can only progress towards this brighter future if people and societies become more climate intelligent.
If a “new normal for climate” is indeed upon us, we can be alive to the opportunities it can bring. Check out my colleague Laura Zamboni’s post to find out more.
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