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“Everything, everywhere, all at once”: UN climate report has no time for doomism

A definitive new IPCC assessment of the climate emergency presses for action over despair.

By India Bourke

The solutions to the climate crisis exist and are available now. That was the overriding message of the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released on Monday 20 March, which synthesised the findings of the body’s past nine years of work.

Recently, pre-eminent voices, including the Economist, have concluded that a global temperature rise of more than 1.5°C is unavoidable. The overshoot may be small or temporary, but it will come, they believe. Moreover, as has been suggested before, the IPPC might actually be toning down its warnings in the attempt to reach consensus among nations.

This may be true: current policies put the world on track for a 2.7°C or more temperature rise on pre-industrial levels by 2100, and leave 3.3-3.6 billion people at risk of climate change hazards such as extreme heat, flooding and food insecurity. But as the latest, definitive UN report makes clear, it is also never too late to act. Or to, as the climate scientist Adam Levy puts it, “stop punching ourselves in the face”. Doomism or defeatism, in other words, is no excuse to forgo climate action.

[See also: Seven ways to make leaders act on climate change]

“This synthesis report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all,” said Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC.

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To limit heating to the crucial target of 1.5°C over global pre-industrial temperatures, however, the report warns that countries must make deep emissions cuts this decade. That will involve shrinking the “implementation gap” between promises made and actions taken – including on reaching net zero by mid-century and cutting the 2019 level of emissions by 60 per cent by 2035. It will also entail fulfilling finance pledges to support the least-developed nations in making their low-emission transition.

In the UK, the government is due to publish a revised net zero strategy by the end of this month, after legal action brought by Friends of the Earth and others found their plans to be inadequate. Those plans, as a new analysis by the Green Alliance think tank shows, will need to be extensive, because less than a third of required policies are currently in motion.

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Consequently, one of the most chilling sentences of the carefully worded IPCC summary for policymakers was this: “With every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger.” We must now hope that with every additional increment of parliamentary time, the British government’s response continues to grow too.

As the UN secretary-general António Guterres said in response to the publication, nothing short of “everything, everywhere, all at once” is required.

[See also: The lawyers taking polluters to court: “No company is above the law”]

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