World leaders, and particularly the Australian government, will face renewed pressure to ramp up efforts to combat global warming following the release of a new authoritative summary of global climate science, with scientists warning that every fraction of a degree of global warming matters.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report warning that the world is on track to lock in at least 1.5°C of warming over the next two decades, and potentially higher levels of warming, and more extreme weather events, unless rapid and substantial efforts are undertaken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
The release of the report comes amid climate-fuelled disasters on multiple parts of the world, including severe flooding across Europe and China, bushfires in Turkey and Greece and extreme heat events that have push temperatures across Northern America to unprecedented highs.
Greenpeace Australia CEO David Ritter said decades of inaction from governments have served only the interests of the fossil fuel industry, and have made the task of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change more difficult and increased the risks to future generations.
“We could have made emissions cuts decades ago that would have put us on a path to a safer future, but this was blocked by the vested interests of coal, oil and gas and the politicians who have subsidised and protected these big polluters,” Ritter said.
“If this report makes you feel angry, sad and afraid, that is because it is angering, saddening and frightening. Climate change is not an accident or a force of nature. It is caused primarily by the pollution produced by coal, oil and gas corporations.
“No more excuses and no more delays on climate change. This is decision time for every political and business leader in Australia. This is the issue on which you will be judged by history and by the children of Australia, whose futures are on the line,” Ritter added.
World leaders are set to convene in Glasgow for the next round of international climate change negotiations towards the end of the year.
The ‘COP26’ talks are likely to mount new pressure on governments reluctant to act on climate change – including the Australian government – with vulnerable countries set to use the latest scientific report to pressure wealthier countries to act.
“The scientists have shared a dire warning that every single tonne of carbon added to the atmosphere will contribute to stronger warming, but also that we are not too late to curb the worst of it,” chair of the Alliance of Small-Island States negotiating bloc, Aubrey Webson, said.
“Full implementation of the Paris Agreement is essential to keep the 1.5˚C goal alive, and we urge world powers to step up and save lives and livelihoods right now.”
“As we move forward to COP26 it is essential that global powers and major emitters heed the scientific evidence and take action to ensure an equitable and sustainable future for us all,” Webson added.
Vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director of the Australian National University’s Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, Mark Howden, echoed the call, saying that the latest climate change assessment should be a ‘loud alarm bell’ for policymakers.
“The more we know about climate change, the more we should be concerned. This report is another clear and loud alarm bell,” Howden said.
“It makes clear the impacts of climate change are accumulating almost every day; we’re already seeing worsening temperature extremes such as marine heatwaves that cause coral bleaching and heatwaves on land with dangerous consequences for human health.”
“Fortunately, there are many emerging opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy as rapidly as possible, decarbonising transport, reducing emissions from agriculture, and drawing down and storing atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions.”
Researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, UNSW Canberra’s Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, added that the latest IPCC’s report indicated a greater certainty about state of climate science and an increased confidence amongst scientists of the accuracy of their forecasts.
“Climate change is unequivocal, and humans are responsible for the vast majority of this change. Compared to previous IPCC reports, the language around these statements of current and future change have only become stronger and more confident, reflecting the status of the science undertaken in recent times,” Perkins-Kirkpatrick said.
“It is imperative to remember that climate change is happening now, the world has warmed by almost 1.1°C, and Australia by 1.4°C. With this change, we have seen increases in the frequency and severity of heatwaves, more severe bushfires, more intense rainfall events, and more droughts over some regions. Compound extreme events, which occur at the same time, have also increased.
“The latest IPCC report underlines that climate change is happening now, and will continue to get worse if drastic cuts to emissions are not undertaken.”
The Morrison government has resisted calls from domestic and international voices to ramp up Australia’s emissions reduction targets and commit to a specific deadline for achieving a shift to zero net emissions.
But the messaging from the scientific community makes clear that fast and meaningful action on climate change is crucial, sending the message that ‘every fraction of a degree matters’ – that delay and a reliance on convenient accounting tricks only contribute to worsening impacts of climate change.
“The latest IPCC report is definitive in its assessment that climate change is here, it is caused by humans and it will get worse. Every bit of further warming is going to hurt, increasing our risks from heavy rainfall, prolonged droughts, deadly heat, dangerous fire weather and rising oceans,” Professor Nerilie Abram, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the Australian National University, said.