The short video by UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, broadcast yesterday in response to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), should be compulsory daily viewing for every government across the globe, and should inform their every decision.
Guterres strips down the report’s findings to stark bullet points: humanity is responsible for almost all global heating over the last two centuries; temperatures are rising faster in the last 50 years than they have for the previous two millennia; carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are at their highest for two million years.
This “synthesis report” assesses the six last IPCC reports. It shows that the consequences of these shifts are already with us, and will get almost unimaginably worse if we do not take very radical action to slow heating right now.
“Every increment of warming results in rapidly escalating hazards,” the report warns. “More intense heatwaves, heavier rainfall and other weather extremes further increase risks for human health and ecosystems. In every region, people are dying from extreme heat.
“Climate-driven food and water insecurity is expected to increase with increased warming. When the risks combine with other adverse events, such as pandemics or conflicts, they become even more difficult to manage.”
Nevertheless, both Guterres’s video and the report itself are repeatedly marked by an upbeat insistence that we have the means to hold temperature rises to the (barely tolerable) 1.5 degree target set by the 2016 Paris Agreement – if we can only find the political and social will to use them.
“We have never been better equipped to solve the climate challenge,” Guterres concludes, “but we must move into warp speed climate action now.” When he spells out exactly what that means, however, the challenge to very powerful vested interests, and therefore to political leaders, becomes painfully obvious.
The measures he proposes, under the topical banner of “everything, everywhere, all at once”, include: calling on G20 members to pool their resources and capabilities to reach carbon neutrality by 2050; the phasing out of coal by OECD countries by 2030, and by all countries by 2040, while ending all private and public funding of coal now; ceasing all licensing and funding of new oil and gas, and stopping expansion of existing reserves.
That’s a brave point to make in the week that US president Joe Biden has approved the massive Willow oil project in Alaska. And these actions need to be underpinned by climate justice, transferring wealth from the richer, polluting countries to the poor countries most suffering its impacts. Such a radical agenda is arduous and daunting. But failure to adopt it is no longer an option if we want to survive.