Clock running out on climate action

A report released on Monday by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that the pace and scale of what has been done so far to limit global warning, and current plans, are insufficient to tackle climate change.

In 2018, IPCC highlighted the unprecedented scale of the challenge required to keep warming to 1.5°C.

Five years later, that challenge has become even greater due to a continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions, said the expert group assembled by the UN to monitor the crisis.

The group concluded there is a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to enable climate-resilient development, and says deep, rapid and sustained mitigation and accelerated implementation of adaptation actions in this decade would reduce projected losses and damages for humans and ecosystems, and deliver many co-benefits, especially for air quality and health.

On the other hand, it says, delayed mitigation and adaptation action would lock in high-emissions infrastructure and increase losses and damages.

“Near-term actions involve high upfront investments and potentially disruptive changes that can be lessened by a range of enabling policies,” the report says.

It observes that human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming, with global surface temperature reaching 1.1°C above 1850-1900 in 2011-2020.

“Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, with unequal historical and ongoing contributions arising from unsustainable energy use, land use and land-use change, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production across regions, between and within countries, and among individuals,” the report says.

It adds that vulnerable communities that have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected.

Speaking on the report’s release, IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said, “… if we act now, we can still secure a livable sustainable future for all.”

The IPCC said, “More than a century of burning fossil fuels as well as unequal and unsustainable energy and land use has led to global warming of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. This has resulted in more frequent and more intense extreme weather events that have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world.”

Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred, the IPCC observed.

The IPCC said the solution lies in climate resilient development. This involves integrating measures to adapt to climate change with actions to reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in ways that provide wider benefits.

Small Island Developing States like The Bahamas face a most urgent threat.

“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.

“Almost half of the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change. In the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions.”

It is vital that these vulnerable states continue to join their voices to lobby for action.

Much of that action must be taken by industrialized nations. 

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, on Monday proposed to the Group of 20 (G20) a Climate Solidarity Pact, in which all big emitters make extra efforts to cut emissions and wealthier countries mobilize financial and technical resources to support emerging economies in a common effort to keep the goal of 1.5°C alive.

The plan, he said, would supercharge efforts to achieve this Climate Solidarity Pact through an all-hands-on-deck Acceleration Agenda.

Gutteres said every country must be part of the solution.

“Demanding others move first only ensures humanity comes last,” he noted.

No one stands to gain from inaction.

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