A forest on fire at night

Events such as forest fires are likely to become more common as global temperatures rise. Image © Christian Roberts-Olsen/Shutterstock

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Climate change 'survival guide' finds 1.5⁰C is achievable, but needs urgent action

The steps we take in this decade will define life on Earth for centuries to come.

The latest report from the UN's climate advisors reveals that the world is more than capable of tackling climate change, but current action simply isn't enough.

It's possible to defuse humanity's 'climate time-bomb' – but the clock has almost reached zero.

Bringing together seven years of research, the synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that while it is now more likely than not that global temperatures will rise by more than 1.5⁰C, it's not impossible to stay below it.

UN Secretary General António Guterres used a speech littered with science fiction references to emphasise that though this target may seem increasingly unachievable, the goal is grounded in reality.

'Today's IPCC report is a survival guide for humanity,' the Secretary General said. 'As it shows, the 1.5⁰C limit is achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action.'

'This report is a clarion call to massively fast track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts - everything, everywhere, all at once.'

António Guterres proposed a Climate Solidarity Pact, where the world's biggest emitters redouble efforts to cut emissions while wealthy countries support less well-off nations to make the changes needed for everyone's sake.

He also announced an Acceleration Agenda, calling on developed nations to reach net zero by 2040, 10 years ahead of previous targets. He said this was achievable, provided goals such as the phase out of coal by 2030 were achieved.

'We have never been better equipped to solve the climate challenge – but we must move into warp speed climate action now,' the Secretary General added. 'We don't have a moment to lose.'

The synthesis report marks the final stage of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report, which will feed into the new emissions targets countries will set at COP28.

Key points

  • The synthesis report is the final part of the Sixth Assessment Report, and was put together by 93 scientists from across the world.
  • It summarises the findings of three previous reports, published across 2021 and 2022. It aims to bring together all the key points so that governments, policy makers and individuals can understand and act on its findings.
  • While the target of 1.5⁰C of warming is achievable, it will need emissions to be halved in the next seven years, as well as negative emissions technology that is still in development.
  • Fossil fuel extraction will need to be rapidly brought to an end, while other industries with a high carbon footprint will also need to transition to net zero by 2050.
UN Secretary General António Guterres called for countries to accelerate their route to net zero. Image © Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

Tackling climate change is tough

The synthesis report sets out the challenges that climate change is already causing, from more intense storms to coastal flooding. By 2100, extreme flooding that usually occurs once in a century could happen at least once a year in many areas of the world.

For low-lying countries such as Samoa, this presents a very real threat to their existence. Speaking to The Guardian ahead of the report, Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa said that her nation was already living with climate change.

'There are already examples in the Pacific of whole communities relocating to different countries,' she said. 'They're really having to address issues of sovereignty through loss of land.'

While events such as storms, heatwaves and other extreme weather is likely to become more common in the coming decades, the report acknowledges that there's still not enough known about climate change.

Additional research will be needed not only to get a better idea of its affects, but to develop solutions that do not yet exist. To keep to the 1.5⁰C limit, the report says that negative emissions technology that takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere will be needed.

While some carbon capture schemes are already underway, they're not ready to be used at a large scale. By the end of the decade, the capacity of negative emissions technology will need to be around eight times greater than it is now to succeed.

A partially collapsed road is coned off as water washes on the nearby beach

Rising sea levels as the ice caps melt are causing coastal erosion and an increased risk of flooding. Image © Attapol Yiemsiriwut/Shutterstock

Extreme climate change is not inevitable

While limiting global warming to 1.5⁰C is a challenge unlike anything humanity has seen before, the report finds that it is achievable if we leave fossil fuels in the past.

Almost all of the oil, gas and coal sitting in mines and deposits around the world will need to be left in the ground to ensure that 1.5⁰C can be hit. This would fit with the UN's Acceleration Agenda, which says that all funding for new oil and gas extraction must end.

Instead, it calls for the subsidies to be used to encourage the development of renewable energy which is not only better for the planet, but cheaper in the long run.

Dr Christopher Trisos, who is one of 93 authors on the report, adds that funding is crucial to ensure that emissions-heavy industries such as aviation can decarbonise.

'Accelerated climate action will only come about if there is a many-fold increase in finance,' he says. 'Insufficient and misaligned finance is holding back progress.'

Funding from wealthy countries to help developing nations can also ensure that tackling climate change addresses some of the world's social issues. 

Dr Aditi Mukherji, another co-author, says, 'Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected. In the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions.'

A pile of coal in front of mining equipment in the distance

The Acceleration Agenda calls for no new coal extraction, and an end to its use entirely by 2040. Image © Artur_Nyk/Shutterstock

The IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report

The synthesis report is the fourth and final release of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report, which has been in preparation since 2015. It summarises three previous reports, which examined the science of climate change, its impacts, and how it can be mitigated against.

The first part of the Sixth Assessment Report, looking at the science, was released in 2021. It found that the rate of climate change is 'unprecedented' in at least the past 2000 years, and is 'unequivocally' the result of human activity.

Changes in rainfall, glacier coverage and sea level over the past century were all linked to human activity, noting that the evidence linking extreme weather to climate change had only increased since the previous report.

Looking to the future, it predicted that even a business-as-usual approach to climate change would see global temperatures rise by at least 2.5⁰C – much higher than the levels expected to limit the worst damage. The impacts of these changes will be felt for centuries, even if greenhouse gas levels started to drop.

The second part of the report looked more closely at climate change's effects, finding that around half the world's population live in areas that are 'highly vulnerable' to climate change. Food and water security have decreased, while health impacts are on the rise.

It's not just humans that are suffering. Ecosystems are experiencing irreversible losses as they change from their natural states, while the risk of extinction is rising for many species.

While the threats are stark, the report revealed that we can adapt to climate change with nature's help. Whether it's planting forests to absorb rainwater, restoring coral reefs to protect against coastal surges, or improving the health of soil, the natural world is crucial to our survival.  

The final report builds on the suggestions of how the world can adapt to climate change with additional steps to mitigate the impacts. These include steps to provide green spaces in cities, use resources more efficiently, and reduce the emissions of polluting industries such as construction.

A shift in lifestyle, such as flying less or eating less meat, is also important to help limit global emissions and reduce the effects of climate change.