Rarely in journalism, or indeed any other field or practice, are evidence and truth entirely one sided. Equally rarely are truths unequivocally vital to every one of us, our children and indeed the societies and customs we live by.
Yet, in the case of global warming and the second of three IPCC assessments, there is just no longer any room for debate. What remains astonishing is simply what more powerful imperative to action might be needed to drive the world’s governments and businesses into the required progress.
Consider these statements…
The IPCC is holding nothing back in its latest report. It says human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world.
It says its report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It says climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. It promises unavoidable multiple climate hazards are coming over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F). Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible.
It warns heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. Weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. These have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity.
Here’s the kicker:
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future”
Hans-Otto Pörtner, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair
An unliveable future
Let’s take a moment to consider what a liveable future is. Business and society would coexist within a sustainable system that enables humans and the rest of life on earth to happily coinhabit this space.
In this imagination, we need not lose the progress we have made over hundreds of years, across healthcare, science, politics, ethics, environmental and business thinking. Money can be made and wealth, both social, ethical and capital created from sustainably managed resources and renewably powered products and services. We all hope the concept we know as net zero can lead us here.
But to be clear, this more benign tomorrow, as of now, is where we are NOT heading.
The future we have chosen, for now, is this: “Our report clearly indicates that places where people live and work may cease to exist, that ecosystems and species that we’ve all grown up with and that are central to our cultures and inform our languages may disappear,” said Prof Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC.
“So this is really a key moment. Our report points out very clearly, this is the decade of action, if we are going to turn things around.”
The IPCC says cities can help. “Growing urbanisation and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services,” Debra Roberts said.
“But cities also provide opportunities for climate action; green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society.”
There are also technologies which get the boot; the BBC notes that the use of some technologies designed to limit warming or reduce CO2 could make matters worse rather than better.
There are worries that machines that suck CO2 from the air could simply trigger the release of more warming gas.
“If you remove CO2 from the atmosphere, you’ll get a rebound effect from the others in the carbon cycle,” said Linda Schneider from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, who was an observer at the IPCC discussions.
“The oceans, the land reservoirs, will have an outgassing effect. And so some of the CO2 that you removed from the atmosphere will be returned to the atmosphere.”
There is also a very clear call from the IPCC for a proper financial loss and damage system to compensate developing countries for harms caused by historical carbon release from richer nations. This stalled at COP26 but could be back on the cards.
But is anyone listening anyway?
The response from UN secretary-general António Guterres to the report was stark: “Delay is death.” Many other well renowned scientists and commentators have registered both shock and a sense of disbelief at the scale and level of the dangers laid out by the IPCC.
What comes next? No more powerful or frightening prediction is possible. No more capable agency than the IPCC exists to provide such concerning intelligence. No more certainty can be brought forth on the necessary actions and steps for the world’s governments and businesses.
A final thought: today the Amazon, for many a potent environmental symbol, emits more carbon than it absorbs. Few people know this. This has happened simply because of humans recklessly burning trees to clear space for commercial profiteering. For cash and business, in other words.
The business buck hasn’t stopped in time to prevent this happening to the Amazon. What about the rest of the world and its inheritors?