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Climate scientists deliver final warning: Time is running out

The IPCC has released the final synthesis report on the state of the climate crisis and what the world’s governments must do to combat it

A coal-powered thermal power station in India.
A coal-powered thermal power station in India. (Istockphoto)

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Consider this the final warning: Climate scientists stated unequivocally today that rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have to be checked immediately. The alternative is climate chaos and ultimately global catastrophe. The United Nations’ climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), today released the fourth and final instalment of its sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The Climate Change 2023 Synthesis Report is a culmination of a cycle of reports that started in 2018, which states clearly that in order to limit the effect of global warming to minimum, the world has to cut emissions by nearly half by 2030 and bring this down to zero by 2050.

The report brings together the key findings of three reports released in 2021-2022 that laid out the science of climate change, its impacts and ways to give up our dependance on planet-heating fossil fuels. Today, scientists of the IPCC stated that the world has to act now to ensure that global emissions peak by 2025. Time is running out.

Also read: The climate change doom loop

Marking the release of the report, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the report is a “clarion call” for action. “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

Some of the top points made by the report is that it is very likely that the world will overshoot the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold of warming in this decade. However, with strong and focused climate action, this can be reversed. However, if immediate action isn’t taken to end our dependence on oil, coal and gas, the world is on track for global warming of 3.2 degree Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100. That would be catastrophic for life on Earth. Since the 1850s, the world has already heated up by 1.2 degree Celsius, and the terrible effects of this “lower” level of warming can be seen everywhere.

The world has nearly spent it’s carbon budget, i.e. the amount of CO2 and other GHGs countries can emit into the atmosphere and still stay within reach of the 1.5 degree Celsius goal. The more we emit now, the more drastic and expensive the cuts have to be in the future. And beyond certain levels of warming, it would be difficult to control further heating.

Also read: The 5 tipping points the world is nearing

However, the IPCC holds out hope that this can still be done. “This synthesis report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a livable sustainable future for all,” said the chair of the IPCC, Hoesung Lee.

The other main points that the report makes is the fact that the losses and damage that people are already facing due to climate impacts—especially in poorer and more vulnerable countries—is going to only get worse unless we stop burning fossil fuels. It is incumbent on governments, then, to ensure that we see transformational change in this decade, on the basis of climate justice. “Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” said Aditi Mukherji, one of the 93 authors of the report.

The IPCC stated that over 3 billion people already live in regions that are “highly vulnerable” to climate impacts. It also found that over half the world’s population already suffers from extreme water scarcity. Deaths due to climate hazards are rising each year, and for every fraction of additional warming, this is going to only get worse.

This is a sobering report for India, which is in an unwelcome and unique position of being threatened by several climate impacts simultaneously—be it the melting of Himalayan glaciers, severe cyclonic storms, sea level rise, or extreme heatwaves.

“India is one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Policymakers in India must take these findings seriously and prioritise urgent action to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change,” said Dr. Anjal Prakash, Research Director, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business.

The AR6 reports have been ground-breaking in not just laying out the immediate threat of the climate crisis, but also how much worse it is than was previously thought. The reverberations of the synthesis report will be felt in global conferences that will take place later this year, from the G20 meetings of the world’s richest 20 nations to the COP28 UN climate conference in Dubai in end-November.

Also read: Why we could see a terrible rise in global temperatures

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