IPCC report: the message is stark, but there is hope

The IPCC’s landmark climate change report should serve as a major wake-up call for governments, businesses and individuals.

The findings are unequivocal. Climate change is affecting every region and across the whole climate system. Many of the changes observed are unprecedented, and some of the changes already set in motion – such as continued sea level rises – are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years.

The report shows that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850, and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming. Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.

For 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health, the report shows.

We are already seeing the impacts, and they are set to worsen. More intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions. More frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.

Decisive action

The report makes for difficult reading, and it would be easy to be trapped into inertia by the feeling of overwhelm. But, if we act quickly, we can still avoid catastrophe. Scientists are hopeful that if we can cut global emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by the middle of this century, we can halt and possibly reverse the rise in temperatures.

Anthony Mayall, Chief Commercial Officer at BiU comments, “We need to treat the climate crisis with the same dedication, urgency and expertise as the COVID-19 vaccine and provisions. With unprecedented speed a solution was created. A lot of parallels can be made with climate change.

“Mark Carney said, ‘you can’t self-isolate from climate change’ and nothing could be truer. We need a full-steam 2-3 years of focus on the technology solutions that the government is banking on helping reduce emissions. Alongside this we need a revolution of behavioural change.

“Imagine a COVID-esque weekly statistic of those affected by climate change, and those who’ve lost their lives. Would we see the same dramatic changes in personal accountability and behaviour change, much like when we all started washing our hands in earnest?

“The evidence of climate change is on the news, but it’s just not dressed with the same urgency. Devastating, life-taking, floods in Germany. Tragic fires ripping through Greece.

“The wealthy west has caused this, and we should solve it, with as much urgency as we did to save lives with the COVID vaccine. What’s the point in surviving a pandemic, if we don’t have an earth to inhabit?”

With less than three months to go until COP26, we’re calling on businesses and governments to do better. Businesses need to back net zero targets with robust and credible transition plans. The UK government needs to ramp up policy action to deliver on ambition. The world has shown it can mobilise in an emergency and come together to fight a crisis. The window of opportunity is small, but seizing it is vital to life as we know it.