What you need to know about the latest IPCC Report by Isabella Buffalini, Lead Naturalist Educator
On April 4, 2022, the IPCC released its latest report about climate change. But what exactly is the IPCC, and what does the report say?
What is the IPCC?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. Its purpose is to provide political leaders with regular scientific reports about climate change, including the effects that climate change has and the strategies to avoid or reverse it. Each assessment has contributions from thousands of scientists, making it a global collaboration. The Assessment Reports include social, political, and economic considerations of climate change.
What are the Assessment Reports?
Three part Assessment Reports with a summary are released every 7 years. The IPCC has three working groups:
Working Group I: establishes proof that climate change is real and caused by humans, and its current status
Working Group II: deals with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability as it relates to climate change
Working Group III: details strategies for the mitigation of climate change; reducing the severity of climate change.
Caption: (From left to right) Summary for the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) and Working group reports II and I.
So far, the IPCC has released 5 Assessment Reports in their entirety, and the 6th Summary Assessment Report should be finished this fall.
What does the latest Assessment Report say?
The latest assessment report is titled Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change or AR6 WGIII. Its focus? How we can live with the world we created and avoid climate disaster at all costs. This report looks at what we can do to limit and prevent human-caused emissions that are largely responsible for climate change. It explains where our emissions come from, explores the various pathways that informed decision making can do in response to climate change, and evaluates the status of the pledges made by countries in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2014. Throughout its 17 chapters and a staggering 3675 pages, it gives us a plan to tackle climate change immediately. I’ve researched it and compiled the most important things you need to know, so you don’t have to.
First, the report discusses some things that you may already know about: scientists have warned that if global warming reaches above 1.5°C, we will experience devastating and irreversible climate disaster. Climate change is already affecting weather and natural disasters by causing more frequent and severe storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires, like the ones we saw in our area last summer. It shows that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and current mitigation plans are not ambitious enough to limit warming to where we need it to be. Additionally, these emissions and their impacts are not evenly distributed across the globe; the wealthiest countries continue to emit more greenhouse gasses than developing countries, even though developing nations are experiencing more severe climate impacts.
Caption: Figures showing scientific-modeled projections based on different greenhouse gas emissions around the world. Current pledges for the Paris Climate Agreement will not hit our warming target. To limit warming, we have to demonstrably limit greenhouse gas emissions as well.
AR6 WGIII reminds us that although we are not currently on track to limit warming to 1.5°C, swift action will help us limit further warming and buy more time for nations that need to adapt to climate change. To do this, the IPCC recommends we invest more in renewable energy; currently, investment in renewable energy is 29 times lower than it needs to be to help reach our mitigation goals (AR6 WGIII). AR6 WGIII states that the money is there, it just is not in the right places. Instead, it’s invested in fossil fuels. In fact, in the past decade, renewable energy technology has improved so much that it could be less expensive than fossil fuels, accounting for the carbon emissions that fossil fuels create (Carbon Brief). Shifting these attitudes and investments will remarkably change the path we are on in terms of climate change.
With scientific modeling, the IPCC has shown us more cost friendly options that mitigate climate change by reducing carbon emissions. In the figure below, blue means that it is more cost effective than what we currently use for industry; solar and wind power are cheaper than fossil fuels, now. The length of the bar indicates potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, so longer bars (like solar and wind) have a very high potential to help us reach our warming targets. Dark red means that the solution will be more costly than what we currently use, and shorter bars show limited mitigation potential.
Caption: Overview of mitigation options and their estimated ranges of costs and potentials in 2030.
However, simply reducing our emissions will not be enough. We actually need to remove some of the carbon dioxide that we’ve produced out of the atmosphere. The report offers a solution - use nature! Plants’ natural technology removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. The report hopes that plants could provide nearly a third of the emission reductions that we need to hit our goals of keeping warming below 1.5°C (Nature.org).
One of the most important things that we can do to fight climate change is to protect habitats around the world that hold, or sequester, carbon. These habitats include wetlands, like the Rosewood Lakes Nature Study Area that Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation is currently restoring. Wetlands like Rosewood Lakes NSA have a great amount of local benefits; they regulate flooding, clean water, provide habitat for wildlife, promote beautification and appreciation of nature, and sequester carbon! Protection and promotion of our wetlands and other carbon-storing habitats will help keep us on track for IPCC climate goals.
Caption: Wetland Restoration Technicians are actively working on restoring Rosewood Lakes Nature Study Area to a functional and beneficial habitat. Initiatives like this are a great natural solution to mitigating climate change.
Other important benchmarks that the report has modeled to mitigate climate change include reducing methane emissions by a third and changing the way we manage farmland and timber forests so that they retain more carbon (The Guardian, Nature.org). We need to completely change our attitudes towards the energy, farming, and transportation industries to make this work. According to the press release of the latest report, “We have options in all [industry] sectors to at least halve emissions by 2030.” (IPCC Press Release).
Caption: The Rosewood Lakes Nature Study Area is important to our local community and also a great solution to carbon sequestration.
Why should I care?
Mitigation of climate change will keep people safer on a global level by protecting infrastructure from severe weather events. It also promotes equity around the world by empowering developing nations to face this crisis. Many forms of climate action have additional benefits for society. For example, designing cities that are friendlier to cyclists and foot traffic not only cuts down on emissions from personal vehicles, but also increases opportunities to exercise. It reduces air pollution, which reduces urban heat and air quality that we know gets so important during fire season in the Western US. More green spaces and better air quality provides numerous benefits for mental health, as well.
Further reading & resources:
AR6 WGIII Summary Report for Policymakers, Technical Summary, and Full Report (Assessment Reports)
AR6 WGIII Press Release (Press Release)