By Barney Smith
On 20 March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), delivered its latest report to the heads of Government, who set it up as long ago as 1988. Amid the hundreds of pages and annexes, the message was clear: act now or it will be too late. Echoing the thrust of the message, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Gutares, said “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every time frame.”
The message that it will be “Too late” means that today’s heads of Government will have failed to limit the increase in the world’s temperature to 1.5 degrees C. over pre-industrial temperatures, as envisaged in the Paris COP. It is calculated that the temperature of the world is already 1.1 higher than it was during the pre-industrial phase. There is still time for us to take drastic remedial action and there is still time for the world to adjust. But this time is rapidly drawing to an end.
If we fail to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C., time will have run out. The resulting weather will be a lot more unpredictable and/or irreversible. The message of the IPCC is not new, it has been saying essentially the same thing for more than 30 years (It published its’ first report in 1990) yet it would seem that not enough people are listening: in 2022, as in previous years, global emissions rose to new record levels. And most of the emissions increase does not come from the poorer countries
All the usual arguments have been trotted out, not least the seemingly plausible statement that no-one has ever voted for what the developed world is now being required to do. But we are now facing an entirely new threat to the whole of humanity: unless the emissions fall, we face a most uncertain future, whether we want it or not, whether we take any action or not. Indeed even if the politicians in Europe do all that is required of them, for success to be global, major developing countries, like China, have to follow suit and reduce their emissions too, whatever they may say about responsibility for the current situation.
But if we fail, it is not the case that all previous work on mitigation has been futile, on the contrary, according to John Kerry, the US Special Envoy for the Climate, the message is clear: we are making progress but too slowly. And indeed, some recent research suggests that we are also doing ourselves some good. The damage functions in the models being used, which relate GDP to temperature and sea-level rise, account for impacts on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, floods, road infrastructure, energy supply and demand, and labour productivity. Using this novel approach, it is estimated that the avoided damages are 1.5-3.9 times higher than the costs of climate mitigation. In other words, one euro invested in climate solutions saves the world about 1.5 to 4 euros in effects from climate change