Breaking Down the Latest IPCC Report

01.03.22 By
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What is the IPCC?

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is the most authoritative international body on climate science. The IPCC was established in 1988 and is an essential component of the world’s response to climate change. Its Assessment Reports – published every five to eight years – have been a driving force for action, heavily influencing international agreements.

What is the latest report (6AR WGII)?

Overall the Sixth Assessment Report (6AR) is the most comprehensive review of the state of knowledge on climate change ever completed, and contains over seven years’ worth of new peer-reviewed science. It is an update to the IPCC’s last such report published in 2014. 

The latest contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report is from the IPCC’s Working Group II’s (WGII), which deals specifically with the damage that climate change is already causing, and is expected to cause into the future, what this means for communities and ecosystems, and what options we have to adapt to these changes.

If you’re thinking, hey, didn’t the IPCC release a report recently?, then, you’re right. The different working groups each have different focuses and release their findings at different times. The report that was released in October last year from Working Group I focused on the physical science basis of climate change and included projections for future warming and impacts on the climate system. The next release from the Sixth Assessment is set to come out in April and will focus on methods for reducing emissions or removing them from the atmosphere.

Together these three reports make up the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment report, which provides the best available science to all countries.

What are the main takeaways from this report?

Right now, inadequate global action means the Earth is heading towards catastrophic warming of over 2°C. If all countries copied Australia’s dangerously weak response, we would be headed for warming in excess of 3°C – far beyond anything it is possible to adapt to. We cannot afford to delay. Governments must slash emissions this decade and rapidly transition away from burning fossil fuels. 

The situation has deteriorated since the Fifth Assessment Report.

Climate change is accelerating and impacts of climate change are projected to continue – and to become more severe. The Sixth Assessment Report also considers the effect of complex interactions between the effects we feel from extreme events – as well as the ongoing impact of being hit by multiple extreme events over time – more completely than has ever been done before.

Over the coming decades, every region around the world will experience significantly worse impacts than we are already experiencing, which will result in compounding and cascading impacts on our health, livelihoods, food and water, as well as our national security.

Australia is one of the most vulnerable developed countries to climate impacts.

Working Group II’s report contains a whole chapter on Australasia and makes clear what many Australians have been seeing in their day-to-day lives: climate change has already driven many extreme events in Australia with devastating impacts for communities and ecosystems. 

These include the catastrophic ‘Black Summer’ wildfires in southeast Australia, repeated bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, the loss of our kelp forests, heatwaves that are killing people in our cities, and droughts that are hitting Australian farming communities hard. This report makes it clear that this is only the beginning.

Moreover, we have neighbours in the Pacific and indeed communities within Australia, such as in the Torres Strait, for whom climate change is a truly existential challenge.

Australia is ill-prepared to cope with climate impacts today, let alone worsening impacts. Governments need to support communities and Australians already being harmed while also rapidly cutting emissions. Both are essential. 

This is about Australian lives, livelihoods as well as our economic and national security. The disruption and costs to all parts of our society will be unprecedented – even compared to what we’ve experienced under COVID-19.

Physical and mental health

The report emphasises the adverse effects climate change has had and will continue to have on people’s physcial and mental health around the world. You can find resources on managing eco-anxiety here, as well as a guide for parents managing children’s eco-anxiety here

The report highlights that repeated exposure to extreme events, like extreme heat and bushfire, is associated with decreased mental wellbeing in many ways. These mental health impacts include loss of sense of identity and place, heightened anxiety, risk of depression and suicide along with post-traumatic stress disorder and other adverse outcomes.

Climate change also affects the poorest and most vulnerable the most, as climate risks will exacerbate vulnerabilities and social inequalities. Examples of this can already be seen in Australia, such as the impact of heat in Western Sydney. 

Action now to tackle emissions can help avoid the worst impacts.

The faster we cut emissions, the more climate damage we can avoid. Every fraction of a degree matters.

Scientists have been warning of these impacts for decades – now some damages are locked in – but it is not too late to draw a line in the sand.

This is a choice. Taking slow or inadequate action, like our federal government is, will result in more harm to more people. Adaptation to current and future climate impacts is essential, but can’t compensate for slow action on emissions. Climate change is accelerating, and our response should match the scale and urgency of the situation and focus. Australia should aim to reduce emissions by 75% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2035. 

So, what now? 

We’ll make no bones about it: things are serious. And while no developed country has more to lose from climate change-fuelled extreme weather, no one has more to gain as the world transforms to a zero-carbon economy than Australia does.

Australia has enough sun and wind to be a world leader in renewable energy, as well as in industries such as clean manufacturing, minerals processing and renewable hydrogen. Generations of Australians could work in these clean industries.
It’s time for our federal political leaders to step up and take action to rapidly decrease emissions this decade, but to also grasp the huge opportunity that climate action presents.

Add your name to our people-powered push for urgent climate action this decade.