The Arizona Republic
Climate change ‘sprinting’ urged
International group’s report says quick action vital for escaping disaster as conditions keep worsening
The international group of climate scientists studying the impacts of and solutions to global warming released their latest synthesis report Monday, adding to a long series of scientific reports published by the group since the first was released in 1990.
Their conclusions underscore that the effects of climate change will continue to worsen, with reduced water availability and food production, increased risk of pandemics, malnutrition, displacement and associated mental health impacts, declining biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in terrestrial, freshwater and marine systems, and a growing likelihood of wildfires, flooding, extreme weather and expensive damage to infrastructure and buildings.
“It warns that the pace and scale of what has been done so far and currently are insufficient to tackle climate change. Rapid and sustained emissions reductions and accelerated adaptation action is required within this decade to address change,” said Hoesung Lee, who chairs the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “We are walking when we should be sprinting.”
The report synthesizes knowledge compiled in the current sixth assessment cycle’s three main working group reports and three special reports. It “stands on the shoulders of giants” to bring not only a warning, but new insights, perspectives and hope, Lee said in a news conference Monday morning.
It emphasizes that human influences are to blame for many of the consequences, particularly the increase in heat extremes, ocean acidification, sea level rise and glacier melt. Worsening drought, fires, flooding and precipitation are exacerbated by humans burning fossil fuels, but to a lesser extent.
The report also outlines a pathway forward, through the turmoil. It calls for net zero carbon dioxide emissions by
“What we need now is a political will on the part of policymakers, also on the part of constituents who determine who will be the (next) political leaders.” Hoesung Lee
Chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
2050 for a chance at staving off the worst impacts by keeping average warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or by 2070 for a chance to limit the average increase to 2 degrees Celsius. Either timeline is ambitious given past progress toward net zero and the current reliance of global energy production on the burning of fossil fuels, which release heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The IPCC scientists see possibilities to achieve this goal with “rapid, deep and in most cases immediate greenhouse gas emission reductions,” the report reads. Among the most promising mitigation options are scaling up solar and wind energy infrastructure, which are also some of the most affordable solutions. Arizona stands to play a large role in expanding the solar energy grid, with abundant sunshine and real estate on rooftops and open land.
It will be important to phase out coal and reduce methane emissions from oil and gas development, the report states. Bioelectricity, geothermal, hydropower and nuclear could be good, if expensive, energy alternatives. Carbon capture could provide a small but pricey margin of error while in the transition to renewables. Reducing the conversion of natural systems and enhancing carbon sequestration in agriculture are also essential steps toward a carbon neutral society. Improving the efficiency of buildings, vehicles, public transit, shipping, aviation and recycling systems will also be required.
Does it feel like the same message over and over?
In response to a question from the press corps during Monday’s news conference about whether it feels like the scientists are forced to repeat the same message over and over again — that effects will worsen and time is running out to slow them — Lee said public support is still needed to achieve the necessary action.
“What we need now is a political will on the part of policymakers, also on the part of constituents who determine who will be the (next) political leaders,” Lee said. “The second point is that we need public support to take the immediate action so that carbon neutral will be a realistic world we will have.”
Climate science has progressed faster than most fields of research since the 1990s, with computer modeling of global impacts drastically reducing uncertainty and regional studies enhancing the specificity of conclusions and the targeting of locally sensible solutions.
But meaningful climate action has followed an entirely different trajectory. As media coverage of climate change increases and Hollywood takes up the charge with climate messaging embedded in productions like “Don’t Look Up” and “Extrapolations,” action by governments to motivate change and fund known solutions has been unfolding in relative slow motion.
At the same time, progress does exist. Repeated surveys by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication taking the public’s temperature on climate issues show that engagement is at an all-time high and denial at an all-time low. In August, the Biden Administration responded to elevated concern with a historical investment in climate action when it passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocated $369 billion to facilitate the transition to a clean energy economy.
But many states, organizations and individuals remain confused about how to access that funding and innumerable cultural, political and logistical obstacles remain to installing the necessary infrastructure, ramping up battery production and phasing out reliance on fossil fuels.
Following the climate news cycle can seem simultaneously whiplashinducing and redundant. Climate scientists, like many others, get tired of it all. But they’re still writing reports and asking people to listen. In this latest publication they assert, again, that nothing less than humanity’s collective future is at stake.