Cities buckling under heatwaves, human habitats destroyed in wildfires, crops withering in a historic drought and the floods in Europe, China and India — globally this summer has underscored the urgency of tackling climate change.
The upcoming Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I report titled “Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis”, which is due to be launched on Monday, should be big news, according to climate researchers that IANS spoke to.
After a hard two weeks of working across time zones with cooperation by ‘volunteer’ 234 scientists and approved by government representatives from 195 countries, a major climate science report just waiting for the IPCC to approve it, an authoritative source of scientific information on climate change.
The IPCC is the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change.
In the run-up to its release, the World Meteorological Organization says this authoritative and comprehensive assessment of climate change will be a clarion call to the UN climate summit in Glasgow, which the UK is hosting, this November to step up climate action.
What’s in the IPCC report?
A clearer picture of future warming, understanding of human influence on the climate, including extreme events, and regional information amidst the challenge that lies in implementing the Paris Agreement and cutting greenhouse gas emissions globally.
The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), the IPCC’s sixth major climate assessment since 1990, comprises three Working Group contributions: Working Group I (the physical science basis), Working Group II (impacts, adaptation and vulnerability) and Working Group III (mitigation) and a Synthesis Report.
All reports in this cycle, finalising amidst a worldwide unprecedented pandemic, cover the topic of cities and climate change, ahead of a Special Report on this topic in the next assessment cycle.
So what can one expect from this report?
The latest report by the IPCC will add to the growing evidence for the need for urgent action to reduce emissions — rapidly and radically, said Katherine Kramer, Global Lead, Climate Change, Christian Aid.
The challenge now for governments and businesses is to reduce their emissions at a rate and scale fast enough to limit further impacts and uphold the promise of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, she added.
Batting for policies to counter fossil fuel, WRI-India’s Director (Climate Programme) Ulka Kelkar told IANS: “We need technology that revolutionizes the way we manufacture — with green hydrogen and with recycling. And we need to use our land and natural resources responsibly to support livelihoods.”
What is new in the upcoming report?
A climate researcher told IANS the IPCC report will for the first time include a chapter on the critical role that short lived greenhouse gases play in fuelling the climate crisis.
Given agriculture, waste and coal mining are the biggest sources of methane emissions, the chapter will bring together the latest science on methane, which has been largely ignored by policy-makers despite being responsible for almost a quarter of global heating.
The climate impact of methane emissions, including by India that is among the top five emitters, from proposed coal mines worldwide could rival the CO2 emissions from all the US coal plants. This has been documented in a new report by Global Energy Monitor in March.
For India, the report estimates methane emissions to be at 45 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 equivalent emissions over a 20-year horizon and estimates proposed new coal mines to be 52.
Methane is the second biggest contributor to global warming after CO2, with a shorter atmospheric lifetime, but much stronger potency and warming potential.
New Delhi-based Climate Trends Director Aarti Khosla told IANS that making the shift to renewables is a way to avoid methane in the long run.
“But re-thinking about opening new coal mines or handling closure of old mines such that methane leakage is avoided are all necessary measures till the time coal is part of the energy mix, especially in a country like India that is still opening new coal mines despite the enormous climate challenge,” she said.
So, what did the previous IPCC reports say?
They have a clear message from science that every fraction of a degree makes a difference.
“We must listen to science.”
In a keynote address to students at the Harvard Kennedy School on August 5, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa reiterated her call for “bold and courageous climate leadership” to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Ahead of the crucial UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, which she called “a credibility test for global efforts to address climate change”, Espinosa urged governments to show leadership now through ambitious national climate action plans outlining commitments for the next five years.
She stressed the importance of urgent and decisive action ahead of COP26 in the face of rising extreme weather events globally and the imminent publication of the IPCC’s next major climate change report, which is likely to issue further stark warnings on the state of the climate.
“Leaders must respond or risk missing our long-term goal under the Paris Agreement to limit global temperatures to 1.5C,” she said.
‘Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C’, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty was launched in October 2018.
What is the current climate scenario?
A recent UN Climate Change report has warned that with all current climate pledges, global emissions in 2030 will only be one per cent lower than emissions in 2010.
The initial synthesis, published in February, analysed the impact of the level of ambition from all climate plans submitted by 75 nations by December 2020.
This is yet another stark warning that countries must immediately ramp up their climate ambition if they are serious about the Paris Agreement they committed to more than five years ago.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)