Climate Change has arrived, and it is here to stay. We have failed to slow, let alone reverse, the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. We are threatening the future wellbeing of our species, of you and me.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, has just published its latest report on the consequences of climate change. It makes grim reading. No one should be surprised by its contents; there is nothing new in the report “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, ” a government-approved report.
This report is about risk, the risk to us, all of us, which results from the burning of fossil fuels and the consequent accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. The IPCC’s report provides a framework for governments and industry to understand our vulnerability and exposure and to shape a response based on adaptation, resilience, equity and justice. The IPCC reports “the increasingly severe, interconnected and often irreversible impacts of climate change on ecosystems, biodiversity, and human systems.”
Contrast the stark warning that we have to deal with the “irreversible impacts of climate change … in human systems” with the nebulous, self-serving, commitment to reach net-zero by 2050. And remember “human systems” mean us, you and me, our children and our children’s children. Greenhouse gases continue to accumulate, in January 2020, the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere was 413.30 ppm. In January this year, it reached 417.99 – not even the global economic slowdown caused by Covid has slowed the rate of growth of emissions.
By shifting the target for action into the future, we justify delay and lose the sense of urgency essential for action. By 2050 many of today’s decision-makers will be deceased or in their dotage. Carbon emissions accumulate in our atmosphere and heat our planet. Our emissions today will be contributing to global warming for decades to come. By 2050 irreparable damage will have been done. The key figure to watch is the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere and we have not yet even dented the curve – the accumulation of greenhouse gases continues to rise apparently inexorably.
There is no longer debate about whether climate change is caused by humans by our burning fossil fuel. But we are not managing to reduce the rate at which we are accumulating greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
The IPCC report identifies “irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt.” They report with high confidence that “Climate change has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems” and “Widespread deterioration of ecosystem structure and function, resilience and natural adaptive capacity, as well as shifts in seasonal timing have occurred due to climate change with adverse socioeconomic consequences.”
The IPPC reports that the consequences of climate change are now baked in. With “very high confidence” they assert that “Near-term actions that limit global warming to close to 1.5°C would substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change in human systems and ecosystems, compared to higher warming levels, but cannot eliminate them all.”
We have condemned ourselves to have to live with the damaging consequences of climate change, we need now both to adapt and reduce our emissions and to assist others to do so in the developing world. They bear the costs of climate change despite having made little contribution to the cause of the damage.
With a brutal war in Ukraine, this IPCC report will not make the headlines today, we need to fight climate change too. To borrow from Primo Levi “If not now, when?”