Yesterday, the message from the world’s leading climate scientists was their most brutal and stark yet. It was unequivocal.
We are running out of time if we want a liveable future. Every day we delay the transition from fossil fuels, the situation will get significantly worse for us, our children and our grandchildren. We need to act fast now.
First, some of the science: Human activities, through the burning of fossil fuels, have already warmed our planet by 1.1 degrees, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest report.
With the amount of warming already locked into our atmosphere, however, we are likely to reach and then exceed the Paris agreement target of 1.5°C warming. And it could get a lot worse unless drastic action is taken now. “Without a strengthening of policies, global warming of 3.2 is projected by 2100”, the scientists warn. Extreme heat, droughts, famines, and diseases could claim millions by the end of this century.
It is worth noting that three degrees of warming would be beyond catastrophic. Even before we exceed 1.5 degrees, climate change has had a devastating impact on every corner of our planet, from the atmosphere to the ocean, causing extremes of weather everywhere, already affecting the most vulnerable populations first and worst.
Not all is lost, though. “Some future changes are unavoidable and/or irreversible but can be limited by deep, rapid and sustained global greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The likelihood of abrupt and/or irreversible changes increases with higher global warming levels”, said the IPCC.
Every day matters said the scientists. “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” said the IPCC.
Climate scientist after climate scientist lined up on Twitter to agree with this analysis. As Professor Hayhoe, the chief scientist at Nature, tweeted yesterday,
Here are the big takeaways from the @IPCC_CH Synthesis Report released today.
First, climate change has already caused widespread and substantial losses to almost every aspect of human life on this planet, and the impacts on future generations depend on the choices we make NOW. pic.twitter.com/Bgfl9nna8a
— Prof. Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) March 20, 2023
We need to act not tomorrow, not next week, but today. It matters because the Professor stated, “every bit of warming matters. The warmer the planet gets, the more widespread and pronounced the changes in both average climate and climate and weather extremes become.”
Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist from the University of Reading, said, “The choices we make now will determine the future experiences of those already alive, and those yet to be born. If we choose not to act, Or fail to adapt, Then suffer we will.”
So far, Governments have collectively failed to show the necessary climate leadership.
This image from today's IPCC synthesis report is brutal. The existing policy trajectory represents a profound failure of our governments, and of our international political system. We need much more aggressive mitigation and much stronger international cooperation. pic.twitter.com/vQiSLzlI3g
— Jason Hickel (@jasonhickel) March 20, 2023
Some governments are now acting, whereas others remain belligerently and dangerously addicted to fossil fuels.
Last week, just days after a powerful and dangerous cyclone had swept over Vanuatu, six Pacific countries adopted the Port Vila Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel-Free Pacific, affirming to work tirelessly to reduce fossil fuel use.
Writing in the Guardian, two ministers from Vanuatu, a country on the frontline of sea level rise, Ralph Regenvanu and Seve Paeniu, said that they recognised that “phasing out fossil fuels is not only in our best interest to avoid the worst of climate catastrophe – it is also an opportunity to promote economic development and innovation that we must seize.”
Regenvanu and Paeniu added that whilst “we are doing our part”, they “urge the rest of the world to do theirs.”
We can still solve climate change. We have the tools. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, wrote yesterday: “We need climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once. The good news, he noted, is that we can still effectively tackle the climate crisis. “But we must move into warp-speed climate action now. Every country and every sector must massively fast-track climate efforts.”
Guterres called on nations to double down on no new coal; ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas “Stopping any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves.” And “establishing a global phase down of existing oil and gas production compatible with the 2050 global net zero target.”
But a day afterwards, it’s business as usual for the rest of the world. To give you four examples:
As Doug Parr from Greenpeace tweeted:
Just a day after IPCC said we must nearly *halve* emissions by 2030, govts are quietly planning to allow shipping’s annual 1 Bn tonnes CO2e to keep growing https://t.co/7w6xXhumtp
— Doug Parr (@doug_parr) March 21, 2023
The Australian Government also remains in denial of the scale of the problem and the challenge ahead:
.@abc730 the @AlboMP government (which accepts money from the fossil fuel sector) is suffering from cognitive dissonance. One can’t credibly say that the latest #IPCC report is a wake up call, while claiming that new coal and gas projects are justifiable #auspol #abc730 #ecocide
— Andrew Laird (@ReclaimAnglesea) March 21, 2023
Earlier today, colleagues at OCI pointed out that Italy had broken its “promise to end public financing for international fossil fuel projects, publishing ‘worst-in-class’ climate policy”.
The country has just published a policy that continues investments in new fossil fuel projects, breaking commitments made at the 2021 UN COP26 climate summit. Just hours after the (IPCC) issued a report, the Italian Government published a policy for the government export credit agency, Servizi Assicurativi del Commercio Estero (SACE), late last night.
My colleague Adam McGibbon, said: “The Italian Government’s fossil fuel restriction policy is a new low, with so many loopholes that it is effectively useless. This makes Italy a rogue state in Europe regarding climate change. SACE will continue to be Europe’s largest fossil fuel financier.”
Italy is not alone. The British Government remains an international climate joke too. With timing that is also ironic, the rebranded UK North Sea Transition Authority, which used to be called the Oil and Gas Authority, today announced it was investigating “an oil and gas company” for “possibly failing to meet licence commitments designed to stimulate activity”.
The day after the world’s scientists said we must transition NOW from fossil fuels, the UK government announced an investigation to ensure an oil company is drilling its offshore licence. If not, the company could get fined up to £1 million.
You could not make it up. We carry on drilling as before. We carry on financing fossil fuels. We even threaten oil companies with fines if they are not drilling enough. No wonder the world burns. No wonder the world’s scientists are so concerned.
The next IPCC report is due in 2030; if drastic action has not happened by then, it will be too late. And it happened under our watch.