Intergovernmental climate action in 2021: is this our last chance?
In a profound and simple way, the IPCC has delivered its final warning on climate change: act now, or face catastrophe. With the release of the WGI 6AR IPCC assessment report and the upcoming COP26 summit, 2021 has become the most important year for international cooperation on climate change since 2015 and the landmark Paris Agreement. In order to avoid crossing the 1.5°C limit on global temperature increase, the global community must demand unified and ambitious climate targets. We have reached our final warning; now it’s time to act. So, what needs to happen, and is there anything we can do to help?
What is the IPCC?
Established in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations intergovernmental scientific body created to assess the science of climate change. The IPCC releases assessment reports every five to eight years intended to guide global policymakers by providing clear, scientific documents on the status of climate change.. IPCC assessment reports are key inputs at international climate negotiations regarding climate change. The latest assessment report released on August 09, 2021 is entitled Working Group I ‘Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis’ and will be paramount for the negotiations taking place at COP26 in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12, 2021.
The IPCC report: “Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis”
Working Group I (WGI) of the IPCC are responsible for assessing the physical scientific basis of climate change-related science. The report released by WGI on August 09 is the first contribution of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (6AR) and the only section that will be published prior to COP26. The WGI report provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, with input from hundreds of scientists. The report explains the current and future state of the climate including the role of human activity, and explains that all regions should expect increasing climate instability.. This report is a key moment for international cooperation on climate change. IPCC WGI co-chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte explains that, “this report is a reality check”, which will allow the global community, including our global leaders at COP26, to prepare for the future.
What does the IPCC report tell us?
The IPCC WGI AR6 report explains that this moment in 2021 may be our final warning and that it is vital to avoid crossing the global warming level of 1.5°C. We must act on this warning by means of urgent, accelerated, and sustained emissions reductions. Climate change is already inflicting devastation on people and ecosystems globally; the international negotiations, corporations, personal decisions, and government actions of today will decide whether people get to experience a liveable, sustainable future or, as explained by the Climate Council of Australia, “a future that is incompatible with well-functioning human societies.” The WGI AR6 report explains that “human actions have the potential to determine the future course of climate” and thereby affect what will happen to future lives, species and ecosystems. In accepting responsibility for climate change, we are also empowered. It is vital we push to stabilise the climate through strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in emissions to save the outdoors. The right choices enable us to see the benefits of action within our lifetime and the future: “every choice and every fraction of a degree of avoided warming matters.”
Of great importance, the WGI AR6 report includes a global scientific consensus that human-induced climate change is responsible for the exacerbation of extreme weather and temperatures. Ko Barrett, vice-chair of the IPCC and senior advisor for climate at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains that, “we can now attribute many more changes [in climate and weather] at the global and regional level to human influence.” Advances in climate science have enabled scientists to gain a better understanding of the climate before industrialisation. The conclusion? The earth would not be in crisis if humans had not begun burning fossil fuels.
A key, actionable finding of the WGI AR6 report is that short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane, are more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Although short-lived pollutants typically persist in the atmosphere for less than 20 years, they are far more potent than longer-lived pollutants such as carbon dioxide. Methane pollution is now at its highest level in 800,000 years due to human activity, particularly the agricultural industry. Reducing methane emissions is essential if we are to prevent further warming. If policymakers move towards cutting methane and other short-lived climate pollutants, the IPCC predicts that warming could be reduced by 0.2°C by 2040 and by 0.8°C by the end of the 21st century, creating a meaningful near-term reduction in emissions.
The IPCC report is a tool of vital importance and will underpin the next generation of intergovernmental climate policy to be negotiated at COP26. Overall, WGI AR6 will be a force for the creation of climate goals and policies that acknowledge the gravity and urgency of climate change; goals that are sustainable, ambitious, and will create meaningful change in the fight for human existence.
The Paris Agreement
The Paris Climate Agreement was formalised on December 12, 2015. Globally, there are 197 countries who have pledged support for the Paris Agreement, including 190 countries who have consolidated that support through formal ratification. Iran, Turkey, and Iraq have not formally joined the agreement. The Paris Agreement involved countries of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reaching an “agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future” and began a new chapter in the global climate effort. The central aims of the Paris Agreement were to prevent the global temperature from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to explore avenues to limit the increase to less than 1.5°C. Further, the Paris Agreement established a benchmark for greater transparency, accountability and attainment of progressive targets, and provided help to developing nations with climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Countries who have joined the Paris Agreement have flexibility and national ownership over their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). At the current NDCs, however, emission reductions will not be sufficient to maintain global warming below 2°C. If countries maintain their current NDCs, it is predicted that we will meet or exceed 2°C warming within the next 40 years. COP26 will be a pivotal moment to assess the important but insufficient gains made under the Paris Agreement, and to communicate the urgent need for countries to increase NDCs to meet the 2°C temperature limit.
The UN holds an annual global conference to discuss climate change, known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP. Originally scheduled for 2020, COP26 was postponed to late 2021 due to another global emergency: the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time since its inception, COP will place a spotlight on the role of private corporations in reducing global emissions: “the responsibility for reducing emissions extends to the private sector.” COP26 will be crucial in making up for lost time and pushing towards a “green post-pandemic recovery.” COP26 will also be a vital moment to discuss the rules and mechanisms that need to be put in place to meet the Paris Agreement, including discussion of individual countries’ NDCs and a push for stronger legislation to ensure the Paris Agreement targets can be met.
Alok Sharma, president of COP26 believes that COP26 is “our last chance to avoid the worst effects of climate change.” In order to keep below the 1.5°C limit, Sharma asserts that global emissions must be halved by 2030, but we are simply not moving fast enough. Global authorities truly believe that the global community has the ability to succeed if we act now and shift towards a green future. If all countries, corporations, and individuals strive towards emissions reductions, we can affect positive and meaningful change for current and future generations, ecosystems, and the outdoors. Every choice matters.
What needs to happen?
Currently, there is a unified global demand to increase countries' NDCs to prevent increasing the global temperature over 1.5°C. A key component of this is urging corporations to take responsibility and to proactively lower their emissions. In the UK, the government has recently launched the Race to Zero initiative which asks businesses to commit to a 68% reduction in emissions by 2030 designed to encourage just this. In one example, the government reports that “Vodafone has pledged to reduce its own carbon emissions to zero by 2030, before eliminating its full value chain emissions, reaching net-zero by 2040.” It is vital that governments and the private sector move towards unified action on climate change.
Around the world, national policymakers are setting ambitious targets to reduce their emissions; but not every country is on board. The fact is, “Australia has set a weak emissions reduction target for the 2015 Paris Agreement of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030” and has refused to increase their NDC since. If the Australian federal government does not triple their reduction targets to 75% by 2030 then we are set to experience escalating climatic instability and loss of safety in our country. The Australian federal approach to the climate crisis is deplored on a global level: for years, we have been out of sync with international standards for climate action policy. If action is not taken, the Australian economy and our way of life will suffer the effects of increasing isolation and diminishing export markets. The current focus of the Morrison government on whether Australia should commit to an arbitrary target of net zero emissions by 2050 is misguided; achieving this would be a decade too late. It is vital that the Australian federal government listens to the scientific advice at COP26, and acts fast and accordingly in unity with the global community.
What can you do?
As outdoors people, our greatest asset is our personal experience of the climate crisis. On the frontline in our work and daily lives, outdoors people have a unique voice and insight into how the Australian landscape and seascape are changing; it is vital we make ourselves heard. We can drive change by speaking up, and telling our policymakers and elected officials how climate change is affecting us and what climate change means for the wilderness areas we access.
Speak-Up September is a month-long call-put to the OPC community (that’s you!) to speak up to your elected official, particularly your federal Member of Parliament (MP), about your concerns relating to the outdoor community and climate, in anticipation of COP26. We want to support you in taking this action, and are aiming to collect pledges for every letter sent, so we can show the Australian community that the outdoors community are here, that we care, and are taking bold and effective action to make our voice heard. We hope that by sharing the results of this collective effort, we can inspire the power of writing a letter to your MP, which is such a crucial tool for instigating change.
Writing to your MP is not a token gesture. Federal MPs have important roles and responsibilities in shaping the way Australia cares for the environment and acts on climate change. MPs are real people who you can reach out to and form relationships with. Speak-Up September is an opportunity to share your personal experience and knowledge with your elected representative. Taking the time to write a personal email to your MP is a powerful action and can be more effective than a signature on a petition or a ‘form letter’ submitted on an issue.
By participating in our Speak-Up September initiative you are taking a step forward to create change in climate action. With the upcoming COP26 conference, we have the ability to voice our concerns and expectations to our elected officials.
Visit our Speak-Up September webpage to read more about the campaign, understand the specific impacts the climate is having on the outdoor community, and to construct your letter. To understand further how your local Member of Parliament IMP votes on climate, please visit They Vote for You. Of course, as always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out; we’re real people here at OPC, too!