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IPCC report: We can turn things around if we act fast and collectively

The scientific body that advises the UN on the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), issued what may be its final warning to humanity.

The landmark Synthesis Report summarises the insights from six previous reports and is the culmination of seven years of in-depth research on climate change.

In their assessment, the IPCC essentially confirmed what we already know: the window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all is rapidly closing. But it did offer a glimmer of hope. If we act fast, act together, and sustain that momentum, we can turn things around.

For EIT Climate-KIC, the IPCC report highlights the urgency of our mission and the need to move fast and move together. Here are our main takeaways.

It’s now or never

The longer we wait to act, the harder it will get.  As temperatures continue to rise, so does the likelihood of abrupt and irreversible changes.  We will reach tipping points where climate risks interact, creating compounding risks that are complex and difficult to contain. The negative impacts and related damages from climate change will intensify multiple and concurrent hazards with every increment of warming. Changes will outpace adaptation to the point where human and natural systems will reach adaptation limits.

At the same time, scientists are clear that “deep, rapid, and sustained” emissions reductions will lead to a noticeable slowdown in global warming within twenty years and discernible changes in atmospheric composition within a few years.

The IPCC warns us: “the choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.”

We must have climate justice

Ten percent of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute 34–45% of global consumption-based household GHG emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute 13–15%. At the same time, it is vulnerable communities that are the most affected by climate change.

Between 2010 and 2020, human mortality from floods, droughts and storms was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions, compared to regions with very low vulnerability. This includes communities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Least Developed Countries, Small Islands States and the Arctic, and globally it includes indigenous peoples, small-scale food producers, and low-income households.

But prioritising equity, climate justice, social justice, and inclusion can enable ambitious mitigation and climate resilient development, the report emphasises. Not only that, but the outcomes of adaptation is enhanced by supporting vulnerable communities.

“The greatest gains in wellbeing could come from prioritising climate risk reduction for low-income and marginalised communities, including people living in informal settlements,” said Christopher Trisos, one of the IPCC report’s authors.

Cities represent a massive opportunity

The report calls cities “critical for achieving deep emissions reductions and advancing climate resilient development”. Opportunities for adaptation and mitigation are everywhere in cities. This could be the design and planning of urban infrastructure, by providing co-locations of jobs and housing, supporting public transport and active mobility, or fostering the efficient construction, retrofit and use of buildings, just to name a few.

It also highlights that urban transitions not only offer climate benefits, but also benefits for human health and well-being, and reduces the vulnerability of low-income communities. This type of transition is fostered by long-term planning that takes an integrated approach to physical, natural, and social infrastructure.

Boosting innovation systems is critical

IPCC scientists called finance, technology, and international cooperation “critical enablers” for climate action. Enhancing technology innovations systems is seen as key to accelerating the adoption of these new technologies. Boosting innovation systems can provide opportunities to slow down emissions and create social and environmental benefits.

The report highlights the strong link between innovation and policy. Policy packages tailored to national contexts have been found to be effective in fostering innovation; but  policy is also required to reduce the possible trade-offs and negative effects that technology could have.

But again, there are inequalities. Innovation lags in most developing countries, particularly least developed ones. This is due in part to “weaker enabling conditions, including limited finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity building.”

We have the means, but we need policy to act

While there are clearly differences across systems and regions, “feasible, effective, and low-cost” options for mitigation and adaptation are available today. But we need clear and concerted policies and efforts to unlock the transformative power of financial markets, industry and innovators.

Effective climate action is enabled by political commitment. Clear goals, coordination across multiple policy domains, and inclusive governance processes facilitate effective climate action. Regulatory and economic instruments can support deep emissions reductions and climate resilience if scaled up and applied widely.

Everything, everywhere, all at once

While the IPCC report paints a grim picture, it highlights over and over that “deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” would make a difference both to long-term climate change as well as to short term well-being.  But as United Nations secretary general António Guterres put it, “in short our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.”

The solutions are out there. But we have to work collectively to transform our energy, food, transport, and manufacturing systems. Governments, businesses, and civil societies are called on to work together.  We need fast and far-reaching transitions across all sectors and all systems if we are to achieve the kind of “deep and sustained emissions reductions” that will ultimately secure a liveable planet for all.

The science is definitive. The call is clear. We must act fast, we must act collectively, and we must bring everyone with us.