According to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, numerous practical and efficient ways exist to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for human-caused climate change. But what, as a world, are we doing to mitigate climate change before it’s too late?
“Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, (but) it will also provide wider benefits,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “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.”
Synthesis Report of the Sixth Assessment Report
The 2023 report recognizes the interconnectedness of climate, ecosystems, and biodiversity and the importance of diverse forms of knowledge when it comes to climate change adaptation, mitigation, ecosystem health, human well-being, and sustainable development. Further reflects the increasing diversity of actors involved in climate action and underscores the importance of working together to build a strong, resilient climate system.
In 2018, the IPCC warned that we need to take much more drastic action to prevent global warming from reaching 1.5°C, but five years later, the situation has become even more urgent. More than a century of burning fossil fuels has caused the Earth to warm by 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This has led to more frequent and more intense extreme weather events, which have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world.
With each uptick in temperature, the perils we face swiftly mount. Intense heatwaves, torrential downpours, and other extreme weather events compound the dangers to both human health and ecosystems. In every corner of the globe, people succumb to extreme heat’s deadly effects. Climate-induced food and water insecurity will become more prevalent as temperatures continue to climb. When these risks converge with other detrimental occurrences like pandemics or conflicts, the difficulties in managing them become even more daunting.
Current Status and Trends
The Earth’s temperature has increased by 1.1°C above 1850-1900 levels due to human activities, primarily from greenhouse gas emissions. Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise with unequal contributions from unsustainable energy and land use, patterns of consumption and production, and lifestyles. The impacts of these emissions are widespread and rapid, affecting every region across the globe. Climate change has caused adverse impacts and related losses and damages to both nature and people. Unfortunately, vulnerable communities that have contributed the least to the climate change problem are disproportionately affected.
Adaptation planning and implementation have made progress across all sectors and regions. Despite this progress, adaptation gaps exist, and current rates of implementation will cause them to continue growing. Hard and soft limits to adaptation have already been reached in some regions and ecosystems, and maladaptation is occurring in specific sectors and regions. Inadequate global financial flows for adaptation options constrain implementation efforts, especially in developing countries.
Future Climate Change, Risks, and Long-Term Responses
Climate change is a significant threat that continues to escalate with every increment of warming. Increased global warming will intensify multiple and concurrent hazards and escalate risks, causing compound and cascading risks that are more complex and difficult to manage. The likelihood of abrupt and/or irreversible changes increases with higher global warming levels, and adaptation options will become less effective with increasing global warming.
To limit human-caused global warming, deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are necessary. All global modeled pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C or 2°C involve immediate greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors this decade. However, if warming exceeds a specified level, it could gradually be reduced again by achieving and sustaining net negative global CO2 emissions, which would require the additional deployment of carbon dioxide removal.
The feasibility and sustainability of overshoot entail adverse impacts, some irreversible, and additional risks for human and natural systems, all growing with the magnitude and duration of overshoot. Limiting warming to 1.5°C requires net zero CO2 emissions, and projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure without additional abatement would exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C. Therefore, it is crucial to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid irreversible changes, adapt to unavoidable changes, and limit the magnitude and duration of overshoot.
Responses in the Near Term
Climate change severely threatens human well-being and planetary health, and the window of opportunity to secure a sustainable future is rapidly closing. Climate resilient development that integrates adaptation and mitigation is critical to sustainable development, but it requires international cooperation, inclusive governance, and coordinated policies. The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have immediate and long-term impacts.
Taking deep, rapid, and sustained action on mitigation and adaptation in the near term can reduce projected losses and damages for humans and ecosystems while delivering co-benefits, particularly for air quality and health. Delaying action would lock in high-emissions infrastructure, increase risks of stranded assets, reduce feasibility, and raise losses and damages. While near-term actions may require significant up-front investments and potentially disruptive changes, they can be enabled by a range of policies.
To achieve sustained emissions reductions, rapid and far-reaching transitions across all sectors and systems are necessary. Many feasible, effective, and low-cost options for mitigation and adaptation already exist, but they differ across systems and regions. Mitigation and adaptation actions have more synergies than trade-offs with Sustainable Development Goals, and the success of these actions depends on the context and scale of implementation.
Equity, social justice, inclusion, and just transition processes are crucial for climate-resilient development. Integrating climate adaptation into social protection programs improves resilience, and reducing emission-intensive consumption through behavioral and lifestyle changes can have co-benefits for societal well-being. Effective climate action requires political commitment, well-aligned multilevel governance, institutional frameworks, laws, policies, strategies, and enhanced access to finance and technology. Finance, technology, and international cooperation are critical enablers for accelerated climate action, but there are barriers to redirecting capital to climate action.
“Transformational changes are more likely to succeed where there is trust, where everyone works together to prioritize risk reduction, and where benefits and burdens are shared equitably,” Lee said. “We live in a diverse world in which everyone has different responsibilities and different opportunities to bring about change. Some can do a lot while others will need support to help them manage the change.”