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Science calling for deep, rapid, and sustained near-term climate action

(Photo credit: UNFCCC)

The 6th Assessment Report (AR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one of the most impactful and critical reports delivered, as it underscored challenges to deliver robust climate action in light of adaptation and mitigation gaps. Extreme weather events and increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emission trends have led to questions on warming levels. Is the planet already approaching critical tipping points? Can humanity still adapt to the risks? And, is limiting warming to 1.5 still possible?

In an effort to unpack these questions, on the fifth day of COP28, the IPCC held an event entitled Key Findings of IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report: Recent Developments and Outlook for the 7th Cycle that shared key takeaways from the findings of the 6th AR and an outlook for the 7th AR cycle. According to IPCC Chair Jim Skea, AR 7 will focus on policy relevance, interdisciplinarity on cross-sectoral collaboration, and inclusivity in terms of gender and regional representation.

The event consisted of an in-person and virtual panel of IPCC officials that will lead the 7th AR cycle, including the co-chairs of the three IPCC Working Groups. Working Group (WG) 1 assesses the physical science of climate change, WG 2 assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, and WG 3 focuses on climate change mitigation. 

Reflections on AR 6 and outlook for AR 7

The co-chairs of WG 1 emphasized that climate change has further developed, based on AR 6 findings. Climate change is attributed to almost all regions of the world, and extreme weather events provide key understandings on critical mitigation measures. The co-chairs stated that the planet is no longer a natural planet due to rampant anthropogenic activities, and that laying out ‘overshoot scenarios’ will enable a better understanding on how climate responds to interventions.

The AR 7 cycle is then envisioned to explore regional definitions of climate change.

WR 2 co-chairs outlined the exacerbated social vulnerabilities due to climate change impacts, as stated in the findings of AR 6. 3.3-3.6 billion people live in climate vulnerable areas and extreme weather events have exposed millions globally to food security concerns leading to displacement. Health concerns and water-borne diseases have also increased.

The extent of social and ecological vulnerability

The co-chairs stated that it only gets worse, as climate vulnerability and losses and damages is increasing with every increment of global warming. Near-term adaptation action and deep, rapid, and sustained slashing of GHG emissions are critical.

AR 7 is then envisioned to be an action-oriented assessment that integrates adaptation and mitigation.

IPCC reports the emission trends of all major groups of GHGs

The co-chairs of WG 3 proceeded to state that global anthropogenic emissions have continued to rise with North America, Europe, and Eastern Asia as the top emitters. Climate policies have expanded since AR 5, however, based on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) announced prior to COP26, it is highly likely that warming will go over 1.5°C and by 2030, it will be much more difficult to limit warming below 2°C. The co-chairs emphasized that the remaining carbon budget of the 1.5 limit will exceed with current fossil fuel infrastructures in place.

Warming can be limited through deep, rapid, and sustained emissions reduction through a major energy transition from fossil fuels. The co-chairs also noted solar and wind energy sources, reduced conversion of forests and other ecosystems, and methane reduction, as key mitigation actions.

For AR 7, WG 3 will assess the feasibility of climate responses and near-term mitigation actions. Practical and scientifically sound knowledge on mitigation and its integration with adaption will be taken up. The co-chairs emphasized an increased focus on ocean-based climate action, and urban settlements.

Climate science has repeatedly reminded humanity that the planet is approaching irrevocable damage, as reinforced by the findings of AR 6 and echoed in Laudate Deum. In the World Climate Action Summit, the Heads of State demonstrated an understanding on the urgency that scientists have been raising. This has ultimately led to the launching of landmark deals and agreements that have yet to be legally binding, however how long will it have to take before these are integrated into climate policies and are translated into real action on the ground?

As emphasized by Pope Francis in his address to Heads of State as delivered by Cardinal Pietro Parolin “Now is the time no longer to postpone, but to ensure, and not merely to talk about the welfare of your children, your citizens, your countries and our world.  You are responsible for crafting policies that can provide concrete and cohesive responses, and in this way demonstrate the nobility of your role and the dignity of the service that you carry out.”

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