If you’re an active media consumer, chances are you’ve seen the four letters that often serve as the face of the climate crisis: IPCC. Also known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this committee assembled by the United Nations is responsible for analyzing and communicating the latest scientific findings regarding our planet.
On March 20, IPCC published the Synthesis Report of the Sixth Assessment Report, a collection of scientific findings designed to urge policymakers into action. It includes input from over 700 scientists spanning a multitude of fields, including focus areas on physical science, climate change mitigation and climate change impact assessment.
The synthesis report aims to combine the individual reports from the above specialized areas into one digestible read. This year’s edition also includes three special reports on the 1.5 degree Celsius increase in average global temperature, the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate, and climate change in land.
Now that the Sixth Assessment cycle is complete, countries are equipped with knowledge to participate in the Global Stocktake this year, evaluating their efforts towards Paris Agreement goals. Many view these recent findings as humanity’s final warning before global warming becomes irreversible.
Consequently, it’s crucial citizens read the report, especially students who will be future participants in this changing climate. However, other responsibilities call and not everyone has the time to read through 86 pages.
If you’re eager to understand the main ideas and start making changes, read the five key takeaways from the IPCC Synthesis Report of the Sixth Assessment Report below.
1. The global surface temperature has risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius due to unsustainable use of natural resources.
Our planet is warming faster than ever before, and each fraction of a degree matters. At 1.1 degrees Celsius, there have been observable changes to the biosphere. These include rising sea levels, extreme weather, ecosystem loss, food insecurity and more.
These consequences are caused by individual and collective actions, and do not have equal impacts. At risk regions with larger climate exposures and smaller populations, such as small islands and Arctic communities, are being disproportionately displaced.
2. Scientists predict we will surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming in the 21st century, a crucial turning point in minimizing harm.
While strides in sustainability have been made worldwide, there are still gaps between the IPCC’s calls to action and what we’ve done so far. This is caused by a multitude of reasons, from lack of policy to barriered access to environmentally conscious technology in developing countries.
No matter the causes, the consequences of reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming are clear. Negative impacts like habitat loss and human health hazards will compound and become widespread.
It is more likely than not that our planet will cross this temperature threshold in the near future, making feared natural disasters a frequent reality.
3. Greenhouse gases are arguably the biggest danger and have already caused inevitable, permanent damage.
Global greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of rising temperatures, and humans can only make so many adaptations. Communities with direct ties to water are especially vulnerable to resource depletion, which will permanently change their lives and the natural environment they rely on.
The report cites “warm-water coral reefs, coastal wetlands, rainforests, polar and mountain ecosystems will have reached or surpassed hard adaptation limits,” meaning human survival strategies will lose effectiveness with every degree of warming.
However, it is believed if humans exceed the 1.5 warming level warning and inflict these damages, committing to negative carbon emissions, also known as carbon removal, can lessen dangers.
4. Climate crisis mitigation requires action across all sectors and systems, but specifically in finance, technology and international spheres.
Scientists featured in the Synthesis Report have a unified description for necessary action: deep and rapid. If all sectors make recommended IPCC changes, they would not only protect our planet but also receive fringe benefits like increased quality of life.
Areas with the most powerful potential include finance and technology. The Synthesis Report believes increasing “international cooperation” for these goals is possible if governments prioritize equal financial flows and innovative technology.
5. Environmental justice and multivocal governance is vital for effective change.
Climate change is a global problem that requires diverse solutions. Action is necessary on local, regional, national and international scales. The IPCC recognizes that climate resilience will be contingent on “drawing on diverse knowledge and cultural values, meaningful participation and inclusive engagement processes.”
So, as a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, how can you use this information to catalyze change? While you may not have access to write policy and restructure government, your voice still matters. Be sure to vote in local and national elections for candidates fighting for climate justice.
Furthermore, empower voices outside of governmental spheres. Utilize the environmental allies in your classrooms, occupying local organizations and on your social media. The easiest change to make is the one that starts in your backyard.
Lastly, take a breath. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by climate warnings and statistics, which can facilitate a doomsday mentality. While there is a need for urgency, there is also a need for hope.
In the words of IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee, “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.”
Trust in your community. Be a part of positive change.