What is IPCC?
IPCC, or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a body set up in 1988 by the World Meterological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its remit is to research all aspects of climate change and provide information to governments for policy making. IPCC reports are an important basis for climate negotiations, mainly the annual Conference of Parties (CoP) meetings. It may be remembered that in 2007, the IPCC, then headed by Rajendra Pachauri, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the former US Vice President Al Gore.
What exactly was the report released on April 4?
The report was the 6 th Assessment Report by Working Group III and deals with mitigation. It, as the name suggests, is the sixth round of reports released by the IPCC. The previous ones were in 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007 and 2013. In 2018, the IPCC released a Special Report on Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5°C..
The 6 th Assessment Report or AR-6 is in three parts from three different working groups. The first, by Working Group I and titled ‘The Physical Science Basis’, was released in August 2021 and sought to update the world on the physical science of climate change. The second (WG-II) report was released in February 2022 and looked into aspects of adaptation and vulnerability. The third (WG-III), released on April 4, 2022, talks about ‘mitigation’. While the WG-III report is the final one, the IPCC intends to bring out a synthesis report combining the reports of the three working groups.
What do ’adaptation’ and ‘mitigation’ mean?
Adaptation refers to measures we can take in order to cope with effects of climate change that have already become inevitable. This could be like building storm water drains, heat shelters, linking up rivers and so on.
‘Mitigation’ refers to measures that are taken to prevent further global warming. These can include phasing out fossil fuels and bringing in renewable energy, using electric vehicles, using technologies for carbon capture and sequestration and so on.
What does the IPCC AR-6 WG-III report say?
The report is a dense with numbers, charts and graphs; even the summary for policy makers (SPM) is so. But the central message is this — We need “immediate and deep” reduction in greenhouse gases if we must keep the world from warming to more than 1.5°C than average temperatures in the pre-industrial era (the mid-nineteenth century).
Scientists have determined that if the rise in global warming is limited to 1.5°C higher than pre-industrial levels, we are kind of safe. This is the “1.5°C target” or “1.5° scenario”. If global warming is limited to 2°C, then it is bad but mankind can still muddle through. Anything beyond 2°C is extremely bad.
How bad? What can happen?
This is best answered in the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterras. In a recorded message to the IPCC press conference of Monday, he described the climate disaster as major cities under water, unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages, and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals.
What else does the report say?
It speaks about the alarming rise in greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming. For example, it notes that between 1850 and 2019, the world emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to 2,400 billion tons of carbon dioxide but 42 per cent of this occurred in the last 30 years and 17 per cent in the last ten. To meet the 1.5°C target, the world can only emit 500 billion tons more (called carbon budget); anything more will breach the target, with all its deleterious effects.
It speaks about the possibilities of mitigation — renewable energy, EVs, climate-friendly buildings (those built with materials produced with lesser energy, and those that require less energy to keep cool), climate-friendly cities (compact cities where people walk or cycle, or use of electrified mobility rather than burn fossil fuels), and climate-friendly agricultural practices.
It speaks of the inequality in the world, noting (among other things) that 35 per cent of people live in countries whose per capita emissions exceed the equivalent of 9 tonnes of CO2 while 41 per cent live in countries where the emissions are under 3 tonnes, implying that the impact of those who emit more is felt most by the poor. Incidentally, India’s per capita emissions are 1.8 tonnes.
It also takes note of good work done by governments and calls for more. Finally, it talks about the inadequacy of financial flows for mitigation action.
Now that all three WG reports of the AR-6 have come out, what next?
It is not within IPCC’s remit to prescribe policies or tell governments what they should do. IPCC’s job ends with researching and generating information. It is now up to policy makers in various governments to act on the reports. One good guess is that there will be intense negotiations as to who should do what and who will pay whom so that there is concerted climate action. And if the actions taken are not enough, upcoming generations may need to prepare for apocalypse.