What does the IPCC’s latest report mean?

09.08.21 By
This content is more than 2 years old

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released its latest report, which is a comprehensive assessment of the physical science of climate change. Here, we’ve unpacked what it tells us, why it matters, and what this all means for Australia. 

What’s the IPCC?

The IPCC 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 WGI)? 

This latest report from the IPCC is Working Group I’s (WGI) contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (6AR). Working Group I assesses the physical scientific basis of climate change. Among other things it covers humans’ influence on the climate system, extreme weather, and the current and future state of our climate. 

The report is years in the making and draws from a new generation of highly advanced climate models and scenarios. It is the work of literally hundreds of scientists from around the world and is put through an extraordinarily rigorous process of review.

What are the main takeaways from this report?

Key points (expanded):

1. The scale and pace at which humans are altering the climate system has almost no precedent

2. Climate change and its impacts are accelerating, and more impacts are on the way

3. Every fraction of a degree matters!

4. The most important thing is reducing emissions as much and as fast as possible.

Why is this report so important?

This report’s release is a key moment in what has become the most important year for international cooperation on climate change since at least 2015 and the negotiation of the Paris Agreement. It is an essential input to international negotiations culminating at COP26, ensuring that governments have the latest and most authoritative science to inform their commitments and actions. 

We must recognise that the decisions we make today will resonate for centuries or millennia. Changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in ocean temperature and sea level. Some impacts can no longer be avoided, but strong action today can make things far better than they would otherwise be.

So, what now? 

This is a lot of information to take in, and much of it is pretty full on. If you need to, take a minute to process how you’re feeling (and check out our guide on managing stress in uncertain times here). 

The situation is critical, but this report also shows that we can avoid a future of truly catastrophic warming. The world is racing to net zero emissions, and Australia is rapidly being left behind. But Australia is perfectly placed to be part of the solution, and the sooner we act, the more we benefit. Add your name to our people-powered push for urgent climate action this decade.

Find a more detailed explainer of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report here.