Ten things we now know about the climate crisis after the latest UN report

1. The climate crisis needs to addressed with much greater urgency

With each report issued by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the science becomes clearer on the consequences of every increasing global temperatures caused by human-induced carbon emissions.

With the latest verdict, the options in mitigating the effects of an overheating planet become more obvious. Europe may be experiencing the horrible consequences of war and a related energy crisis, but the ability to respond to the climate crisis will quickly unravel and Planet Earth faces catastrophic impacts without greater urgency, it warns.

Without immediate and deep carbon emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees “is beyond reach”.

2. Getting off fossil fuels this decade is critical

If the world is to have any chance of containing average global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees, the single most effective action is rapidly weaning off fossil fuels while scaling up renewables backed by widespread electrification.

If substantial progress is not made this decade, it is likely that 1.5 degrees will be exceeded within 20 years, the IPCC warns.

Its previous reports have highlighted in no uncertain terms that exceeding 1.5 degrees risks unleashing far more severe climate change effects on people, wildlife and ecosystems than up to now – and heightens risk of dangerous tipping points and runaway climate disruption in the second half of the century.

3. A temporary reliance on increased fossil fuels usage is fraught with risk

The Ukraine war and soaring energy prices are pushing countries towards fallback on fossil fuels, especially in Europe. This could result in increased fossil fuel use backed by the putting in place of more infrastructure to process and distribute oil and gas at the very time that scale-up of investment in renewables and production of green hydrogen should be happening.

If this “temporary” course is not pursued in a sustainable way, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is impossible, the IPCC warns starkly.

4. It’s about delivery and upping the pace of climate action

The IPCC is in some ways positive about climate actions being rolled out in many countries, especially those who have achieved sustained reductions in emissions over a number of year.

In 2010-2019 average annual global emissions were at their highest levels in human history but the rate of growth slowed.

Moreover, it finds the know-how to halve emissions by 2030, which is critical to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, is in place. So it is all down to delivery and upping the pace of actions.

That equally applies to Ireland which now ranks among the most ambitious countries in the world on emissions reductions targets – though our record up to now is poor; especially for such a wealthy country.

5. Relying on ‘techno-fixes’ that might emerge in the future could be risky

Sucking carbon out the atmosphere and storing it in the ground or attempting geoengineering of solar radiation in an attempt to contain global temperature rise may sound like the great technological saviour for the world when it comes to the climate crisis. But it could turn out to be a terrible gamble ending in failure or lead to unknown consequences when the world should be concentrating on immediate actions.

This IPCC report suggests warming will likely exceed 1.5 degrees by about the middle of this century, and the best we can now aim for is to bring down the temperature before the end of the century through natural and artificial means of removing carbon from the atmosphere.

This means we must accelerate development and deployment of carbon dioxide removal, though we are not yet sure of its feasibility and have no idea of likely financial cost through deployment at scale. The bottom line, however, is that the possibility of successful deployment of technology must be pursued at every turn such is climate crisis.

6. The safest course is renewables, renewables, renewables

The IPCC backs massive rollout of renewable energy, especially in the form of wind and solar, backed by enhanced battery storage to overcome intermittency in supplies.

Not only is this the most environmentally sound course it will be the most cost effective way to a decarbonised world. Deployment of zero-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels is essential, while their cost has fallen spectacularly in recent years. Complementing this, it acknowledges, must be electrification and enhancement of grids for optimal distribution of power.

7. Methane is a big problem, yet curtailing it is a quick win

The IPCC strongly endorses targeted actions to cut methane associated with fossil fuel production; agriculture and waste, suggesting it will need to come down by 30 per cent sooner rather than later. This is because of its superwarming effects, though it doesn’t persist in the atmosphere the way carbon dioxide does.

Critically, reducing methane will bring the quickest reduction in global temperatures. But this represents an immense challenge for Ireland. To achieve such a cut in the country’s single biggest source of emissions, requires no less than a complete rebalancing of agriculture – and land use – whereby farmer holdings capture carbon through forestry, exploit bioenergy through routine use of anaerobic digesters, enhance biodiversity and, most of all, have the most sustainable dairy and beef production systems in the world.

8. The global picture is building

The IPCC has painstaking built a picture of where the world is at in addressing the climate crisis under its sixth global assessment. The first part, covering the physical science of climate change, was published last August indicating the world had only a narrow chance to limiting global warming to within 1.5 degrees.

The second showed the catastrophic impacts of what was facing the world if heating exceeds that level and the consequences if there was insufficient adaptation to make countries resilient for already inevitable impacts – especially those in the developing world and Global South.

The third shows beyond doubt: “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible” – the words of report co-chair Prof Jim Skea.

9. Planet Earth is under almost intolerable stress

This report on mitigation provides an exhaustive encapsulation of what is required in cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. The emphasis on solutions is a welcome theme threaded through much of the report.

On this occasion, indications of a planet suffering from overheating, and posing an existential threat to humanity, flora and fauna, are less prominent. But the evidence continues to build elsewhere; whether it’s confirmation of record temperatures in polar regions or extreme weather events striking with little notice in many corners of the world.

The ability to withstand climate shocks continues to be undermined with each tenth of a degree rise in average global temperature. Yet the fossil-fuel-powered global energy system continues to dominate in most economies – the single biggest contributor to carbon emissions.

10. It’s not too late

It may seem remarkable but the world’s best climate experts who serve under the IPCC have reiterated yet again that containing global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees is still possible but with an emergency response starting now.

What’s more, their assessment shows a great many people care about nature, the environment and are motivated to engage in climate actions. Yet they may face barriers to act. These can be removed by the right response from industry, businesses and governments, they conclude.

Many governments struggle with the question whether people would support radical changes. This assessment report shows that public acceptability is higher when cost and benefits are distributed in a fair way, and when fair and transparent decision procedures have been followed. Above all, evidence elsewhere shows people want to be informed on the climate crisis, to do the right thing and to make their contribution in collectively responding to it.

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