The world continues its rush towards climate disaster and has left itself only a small window for effective action to avoid the worst effects of climate change as global temperatures remain on course to exceed the target limit of 1.5c above pre-industrial levels beyond which much environmental damage becomes irreversible.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the second of four parts of its current assessment report on climate change on 28 February 2022. The report is intended to inform world thinking and policy-making. Part one set out the climate science and part two deals with the effects of climate change. It makes for bleak reading;• Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense weather events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damage to nature beyond climate variability• The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than previously estimated• The rise in climate and weather extremes has already lead to some irreversible impacts, for example the retreat of the glaciers and changes in mountain and Arctic ecosystems, driven by perma-frost thaw• There is widespread deterioration of ecosystem structure, function, resiliance and natural adaptive capacity• For humans there are adverse effects on water security, food production, health and well-being and on some cities, other settlements and infrastructure. 3.3-3.6bn people are highly exposed to climate change• The most vulnerable people and systems are observed to be disproportionately affected
The report considers near-term risks and finds that reaching the 1.5c global warming limit would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and multiple risks to ecosystems and humans. Long-term risk will depend on near-term mitigation, but, obviously, failure to take necessary action increases the risk – projected adverse impacts escalate with every increment of global warming.
It’s not all bad news; the report says that there are feasible and effective options to adapt so as to reduce risks and progress climate resistant development. It notes that there has been progress in adaptation and planning across all sectors and regions, but it is uneven and there are gaps. Effective action is limited by finance, governance, institutional and policy restraints, inequity and poverty and a lack of climate literacy and information.
The report concludes;
“The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted global action on and adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”
In a sense there is, apart from the greater then expected extent of climate change events, little new in the report. The message that we have to act now has been the same for so long we forget when we first heard it and yet it remains an inescapable truth that insufficient is being done, nationally or globally, to meet the threat posed by climate change.
On the world stage we had COP26 in Glasgow last autumn, in the course of which a number of agreements were made;• To reconvene in 2023 in another attempt to meet the limit of global warming to 1.5c• Developed countries agreed to deliver more resources to help climate vulnerable countries to adapt• A commitment to curb methane emissions• To halt and reverse forest loss• To align the financial sector with a net-zero by 2050 target• The end of the internal combustion engine• Acceleration of phasing out coal• An end to international financing of fossil fuels
But there is considerable concern as to how effective the pledges will be. The UN estimates that these plans will limit global warming to 2.5c by the end of the century, but there were noticeably weak target pledges from some countries. Greenpeace Brazil raised a sceptical eyebrow when their president, forest destroyer-in-chief Jair Bolsonaro, signed the forest agreement, pledges for funding of $100bn made in 2009 have still not been met and there was a new agreement on the highly dubious practice of carbon off-setting.
The verdict? It all kept the 1.5c target alive – but only just!
In the UK there is legislation in the Climate Change Act to achieve net-zero by 2050, tax incentives to encourage the use of renewable energy sources and carbon capture and sequestration and there are government policies in relation to planning, building, transport and heating which seek topromote climate-friendly practice. But at the same time the government planned to open the Cambo oilfield in the North Sea and a coalmine in Cumbria. One of the many back-bench pressure groups holding Prime Minister Johnson to political ransom is the ‘Net-Zero Scrutiny Group’, currently encouraging the dropping of green levies on companies.
The IPCC report is clear that not enough is being done to enable the world to meet the 1.5c limit on global warming. It also stresses that climate resilience development must be achieved through collective, inclusive, multi-sectoral planning and action and through equity, social and climate justice-based solutions. This is unlikely to happen in a global community dominated by free-market and neo liberal economics, where the overarching consideration is one of profit.
The burden of climate change is born, as is much else, by the poor, disadvantaged and marginalised countries and communities. Britain’s Communists agree with the IPCC when it says that effective climate change action requires political commitment, but that commitment is not being given by the free-marketeers, the neo-liberals or the capitalists. Our long-term goal is political change and for that we have to educate, inform and agitate but in the meantime the window for effective climate action is closing. There is much to be done, but, as our 2003 pamphlet on climate said, there is a world to save.