In a summer that has brought record breaking heatwaves, wildfires and floods that have claimed lives and destroyed communities, it should be clear to everyone that climate change is already here.
The first part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, published Monday 9 August, confirmed this – and news reports about it made for frightening reading. We provide a very brief explanation of what the report is, what it means for international action against climate change and how individuals can make a difference.
What is the IPCC report?
The IPCC’s Assessment Reports collate the most up to date observations and understandings about our current and future climate. The latest report focuses on the physical science of climate change, bringing together the findings of hundreds of climate scientists from around the world and has been agreed by over 190 governments.
The second part of the assessment will be published in 2022, and focuses on impacts, mitigation and adaptation.
What are some of the key findings?
The report states that it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land” and that this warming has already led to “unprecedented” and “irreversible” changes to global climate.
It also finds that at current rates of emissions, it’s highly likely we will reach 1.5°C of warming within the next two decades. Fortunately, it is not too late to keep heating at this level – and the consequences of going above this point get increasingly worse with every 0.5°C degree increase.
For example, The Guardian’s summary of the assessment reports that: At 1.5°C, extreme heatwaves that would have happened once every 50 years will happen around every 5 years; at 2°C they will happen every 3.5 years; and at 4°C, every 15 months. This will cause drought and disrupt food supplies for millions of people.
Other irreversible impacts of historic and current emissions include:
- Even if heating is limited to 1.5°C sea levels will rise by 0.2-1m by the end of the century and remain elevated for thousands of years.
- Mountain and polar glaciers will continue melting for centuries to millennia
- Changes to rain patterns will cause longer periods of drought, which will harm the production of staple crops.
What needs to happen now?
The COP26 climate conference is happening in Glasgow this November, and is positioned as the deadline for countries to commit to national action plans to cut emissions to the level required to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
The IPCC report sets out exactly how urgently these action plans are needed, stating that “deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gases [must] occur in the coming decades”.
Every tonne of CO₂ emissions adds to global warming
- Sixth Assessment Report, Summary for Policy Makers p37
It’s important to remember that, even if COP26 does not achieve everything that it sets out to, limiting and cutting greenhouse gas emissions is still vital. When it comes to reducing the likelihood of global temperature rises, every tonne of CO2 counts.
What can you do to make a difference?
It is understandable to feel overwhelmed or anxious. But it’s vital not to feel hopeless. No matter how big the task seems, everything that we can do to limit global heating matters. If you care about the planet and creating a safe future, if you don’t want to feel powerless, now is the moment to act. There is no more time to waste.
Here are 10 ideas to get you started:
Switch to a genuinely green energy supplier – burning fossil fuels is the key driver of global heating. Switching to a 100% renewable electricity supplier not only means you’ll balance out the power you use at home with electricity from renewable sources, it’s a signal to the government that people support renewables.
Move your money - learn how your bank invests your money. If you don’t like what you find, move to a more ethical provider. Join campaigns such as Make My Money Matter to find out how to divest larger funds such as pensions from fossil fuels.
Vote for change – the climate crisis is a political issue. Whether in local or national elections, research a party’s track record on delivering on their environmental campaign promises. Use They Work For You to check how your MP has voted on environmental and social issues in the past.
Love where you live – get involved with local groups pushing to make your town or city greener. Check your local news and council websites to find out about climate policies and ways to contribute, whether that’s responding to surveys about public transport and clean air zones or plans for new cycling schemes or renewable energy developments.
Eat a greener diet – intensive animal agriculture is a key source of methane – a potent greenhouse gas that’s contributing to global heating. If you eat meat and dairy, read up on how to enjoy it more sustainably.
Change how you travel – if you can, reduce how often you drive and walk, cycle or use public transport instead. Cut down on flights and embrace slower travel. And consider making your next car an EV.
Join a movement – the school strike movement and Extinction Rebellion have shown how mass movements can keep climate change in the news. Join climate action groups like 350.org or Friends of the Earth, or support campaigns on specific issues like Stop Cambo. You could go to protests or volunteer behind the scenes.
Keep learning – there’s a wealth of books, documentaries, podcasts and more about solutions to the climate crisis. Explore perspectives on the climate crisis from people who are underrepresented by mainstream environmental organisations, such as people of colour, indigenous peoples (who protect over 80% of earth’s biodiversity) and LGBTQIA+ activists.
Be an online activist – the internet is just another platform for activism. Take a few minutes regularly to find, sign and share petitions from environmental organisations like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.
Appreciate your world – advocating for a greener world is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re involved with climate action, still give yourself time to rest and recharge – whether that’s by getting outside or spending time with friends.
The movement for creating a greener, safer world for everyone needs as many people as possible to take part. Don’t let the fear of not being able to do ‘enough’ stop you from doing anything at all. As Greta Thunberg said, “No one is too small to make a difference”.