New U.N. Report Is Most Radical Call Yet for Climate Justice

Mika Baumeister / Unsplash
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The window of opportunity to prevent the worst outcomes of climate change is rapidly closing—and humanity needs to act fast.

That’s the grim warning aired by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which issued its latest report on Monday. The paper found that the impact of climate change is actually increasing more rapidly than previously thought, which led to the authors setting a new target benchmark for emissions to be cut by 60 percent by 2035.

“This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all,” IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said in a statement.

The synthesis report was the result of more than six years of research by thousands of climate scientists, and it’s just the latest in a line of dire IPCC research with alarming and clear warnings about how runaway climate change will have disastrous consequences on the world. Like past reports, this one offers a small glimmer of hope saying that the world can prevent global temperatures from warming 1.5 degrees Celsius if world leaders take bold regulatory actions.

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“Humanity is on thin ice—and that ice is melting fast,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts—everything, everywhere, all at once.”

Here’s what you need know about the IPCC’s latest synthesis report:

Climate Change Is Escalating Way More Quickly Than We Thought

It turns out that the risks and adverse effects of climate change are happening at a more rapid clip than previously predicted in the 2014 IPCC Assessment Report (AR5). This means that humanity faces even worse risks in the future like deadlier weather disasters, the greater deterioration of ecosystems, and even warmer global temperatures.

“Evidence of observed adverse impacts and related losses and damages, projected risks, levels and trends in vulnerability and adaptation limits, demonstrate that worldwide climate resilient development action is more urgent than previously assessed in AR5,” the report said.

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The study’s authors grimly added that it might actually be too late to reverse much of the effects of climate change—even with drastic action from world leaders— saying that some future changes “are unavoidable and/or irreversible.” However, they did say that these impacts “can be limited by deep, rapid and sustained global greenhouse gas emissions reduction.”

New Emissions Benchmarks

The paper included a new target benchmark for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by 60 percent by 2035 in order to prevent global temperatures from warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The previous goal was 42 percent by 2030.

The authors also set a goal that carbon dioxide emissions specifically need to be reduced by 65 percent by 2035. This would require a rapid and radical rollback of fossil fuels within the world’s energy infrastructure—something that Guterres underscored to the press by calling on world leaders to “massively fast-track climate efforts.”

Developed countries must commit to reaching as close to as possible to net zero by 2040. However, he added that developing countries have an additional decade to that goal saying that they should aim for 2050.

There Is a Renewable Energy Boom

Much like global temperatures, renewable energy sources are blazing hot right now. Thanks to technologies like solar and wind energy, electric vehicles and bikes, and green infrastructure, the world is better positioned than it has ever been to face the challenges of climate change. This is all buoyed by increased public support and awareness for greener tech.

“Several mitigation options, notably solar energy, wind energy, electrification of urban systems, urban green infrastructure, energy efficiency, demand-side management, improved forest- and crop/grassland management, and reduced food waste and loss, are technically viable, are becoming increasingly cost effective and are generally supported by the public,” the authors wrote.

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While the paper stressed the importance of embracing renewables, it also added that the use of emerging technologies like carbon capture and storage will also play a big role in helping manage what fossil fuels the world does end up using in the future. “These are feasible adaptation options that support infrastructure resilience, reliable power systems and efficient water use for existing and new energy generation systems.”

Equity Matters

The report also emphasized that any policy, regulatory framework, or technologies used in the fight against climate change must be done so with equity in mind. That means taking into consideration the populations of the world who have been disproportionately impacted by climate change—especially those in developing countries in the Global South.

“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” Aditi Mukherji, director of climate adaptation and mitigation impact at the International Water Management Institute and co-author of the report, said in a statement.

She added that nearly half of the Earth’s population live in “regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change.” This has resulted in deaths from climate-related disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and droughts being 15 times higher on average in these regions than others.

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The paper adds that climate justice and inclusion can be worked into existing social programs “including cash transfers and public works programs,” which are already being supported by existing infrastructure. This could mean things like sending no-strings-attached money to vulnerable communities in the days or weeks before a hurricane hits.

The Biggest Polluters Have the Biggest Responsibility

Much of the onus in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to stave off the worst of climate change is mostly on world governments and private companies that are responsible for the vast majority of the pollution. That means using the vast wealth at their disposal and investing it in the fight to lower global temperatures.

These investments should also be done in an equitable manner, which includes increasing access to finances for developing countries and vulnerable populations. The paper specifically notes that vulnerable regions “especially in sub-Saharan Africa” stand to benefit greatly if they had increased access to mitigation and adaptation funding.

“There is sufficient global capital and liquidity to close global investment gaps, given the size of the global financial system,” the paper said. However, the authors note that this would mean cooperation and alignment with financial institutions and banks in order to reduce climate risks.

“Accelerated climate action will only come about if there is a many-fold increase in finance,” Christopher Trisos, a climate researcher at the Climate Risk Lab in the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town, and a co-author of the IPCC paper, said in a statement. “Insufficient and misaligned finance is holding back progress.”

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