The fact that climate change is a bad thing should no longer come as a surprise. Nonetheless: 1.5 °C are (STILL!) possible, somehow at least. These are the two main points to which the so-called final report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published on Monday, March 20, 2023 is reduced. But what is that supposed to be – a final report on climate change? Our author Verena questions exactly that.
by Verena Muehlberger
“Final” sounds like an end, like something you can throw into a corner and forget about for now. Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls its report, released Monday, a “final report.” So is climate change over, have we made sure that Greenland no longer melts, that our coral reefs no longer die? Have we averted all the heat waves and floods that become more frequent with each additional tenth of a degree of warming?
Or better yet, are we simply done with the concept of climate change; in other words, are we just throwing the towel? Have we collectively decided to pretend that 3.6 billion people are not already inevitably affected by climate change?
Every tenth of a degree matters
No, the final report simply concludes another evaluation cycle of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The sixth since 1990 and hardly the last. All too bad that the report is again advertised as mentioning that the 1.5 °C target (we remember: Paris 2015, the big breakthrough) is achievable. And YES, that is in the report, BUT it’s alongside a long list of actions we should have taken the day before yesterday. But OK, if not 1.5 °C, then yes 2 °C warming will fit. 2 °C may mean substantially more negative consequences for humanity, such as more frequent and more devastating extreme weather events, but we can still live on the planet somehow. It’s just a shame that the final report also makes it clear that we got it a bit wrong in the fifth evaluation in 2014. Today, 2 °C warming is classified as worse than we told ourselves the day before yesterday.
Accordingly, the final report actually says the following: Large parts of the planet will not support life in the near future. All the measures adopted up to 2030 and beyond will not be enough to prevent this, even under the most generous interpretation. In this sense, climate science agrees that humanity is wrecking itself.
With certainty into chaos, but also out of it?
Nothing about the report is new. In English it is called “Synthesis Report” (= Summary Report), which captures its content much better. In 2021 and 2022, the three parts of the last world climate report (IPCC Assessment Report 6) came out, and in addition, since 2015, there have been three special reports on: Oceans and Cryosphere¹, Climate Change and Land, and the Special Report on the 1.5 °C Target. The findings from these six reports, each thousands of pages long, have now been condensed once again. Synergies have been looked for to find solutions to the irreversible, devastating events that will destroy the planet, if we don’t stop them.
The most common words in the report are:high confidence, very high confidence, virtually certain. Thus, almost all statements contained therein are statistically verified and substantiated. The authors are therefore also very certain that the money and resources that are globally available (for now) are sufficient to create a sustainable future. They are very sure that, if done right, this future would be a more equal and inclusive future. After all, climate protection and social justice aren’t mutually exclusive – however quick profits from fossil fuels and saving the planet are.
We can still change course
On Monday, only the Summary for Policymakers was published. A document in which governments from all over the world can have their say. Over 6000 comments were discussed in the week before publication. This results in wordings that seek to cover up responsibilities. But even so, this time it remained clear that “business as usual” would be collective suicide (see infographic in cover photo). The course can indeed still be changed. Enough money is available, and so is the knowledge to use it wisely. It’s too bad that those who are currently in power still believe that money will buy everything in 80 years still. What a shame that “everything” will be a lot less comprehensive by then than it is today.
¹ The cryosphere refers to all the ice masses of the planet, besides the two large ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, it also includes all glaciers and sea ice.