The Irish Times view on the IPCC report: the world is listening – but not acting

It is past time for governments to act decisively, but the risk is of yet more delay

A blaze on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece’s second largest island, on August 8, 2021. The region suffered its worst heatwave in decades, which experts have linked to climate change. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP

A blaze on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece’s second largest island, on August 8, 2021. The region suffered its worst heatwave in decades, which experts have linked to climate change. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP

 

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change means we know now with near certainty that global warming is happening in every part of Planet Earth, that human behaviour is contributing to this, and that it is getting worse.

The science has never been clearer; the evidence shows human activities are not only contributing to the frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events but amplifying planetary heating. It is probable that temperature rises will become intolerable over vast areas this century. This will have devastating consequences on human populations but also wipe out entire ecosystems and species on which all life depends.

Scientists insist there is a possibility of containing temperature to 1.5 degrees by halving emissions by 2030

IPCC scientists provide stark evidence that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in emissions, the critical Paris Agreement target of containing temperature rise of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels will be beyond reach. Compounding matters, based on current commitments, within 20 years temperature increases could reach or exceed 2 degrees.

While they act in a non-political way, the IPCC research provides an essential role in informing national governments on the best course to take. Factoring in current projections based on what has been committed to, the world is probably facing a 3-degree rise this century. Many climatologists believe that reaching the 1.5-degree tipping point is a virtual inevitability.

The recklessness in letting this happen is underlined by the likelihood that this is what is facing a child born today, who has every chance of living into the 22nd century. Given such a narrow timeframe to act, despondency must be parked. Scientists insist there is a possibility of containing temperature to 1.5 degrees by halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

You have been telling us for over three decades of the dangers of allowing the planet to warm. The world listened, but it didn’t hear

This should prompt national governments to ensure actions that will quickly reduce carbon emissions are agreed at the forthcoming COP26 summit next November. It will necessitate swift reductions of all greenhouse gases, especially methane, the IPCC report concludes, as this can bring the quickest return. This will be extremely challenging for Ireland, given its agricultural sector.

Minister for Climate, Eamon Ryan, has acknowledged “the window to act on climate change is closing”. His best course is to reappraise the Government’s climate strategy in light of the IPCC verdict. In spite of much-vaunted ambition, it’s likely to be found to be insufficiently robust.

Responding to the authors, UN environment programme director Inger Andersen summarised best where the world is right now: “You have been telling us for over three decades of the dangers of allowing the planet to warm. The world listened, but it didn’t hear. The world listened, but it didn’t act strongly enough. As a result, climate change is a problem that is here, now. Nobody is safe. And it is getting worse faster.”

All too true, and time is running out.

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