Skip to main content

IPCC warns: Window to deliver 'sustainable, livable future for all' is closing

Climate scientists urge policymakers, investors and businesses to accelerate global decarbonization efforts, saying the pace of action remains far too slow despite a raft of readily available climate solutions.

Flooding in Pakistan, circa 2022

Image via Shutterstock/Sandy Plus

The world's top climate scientists have called for the "mainstreaming" of climate action across society, warning the window for securing a livable, sustainable future is rapidly closing despite there being "multiple, feasible and effective" solutions available to stave off dangerous levels of global warming.

The latest report from the scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), approved by governments last weekend, warns the sluggish embrace of proven low-carbon technologies and business models over the past decade means steeper emissions cuts will be required than previously anticipated to avert a future dominated by potentially catastrophic heatwaves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones.

Global temperatures have risen to 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels after more than a century of burning fossil fuels and current policies are expected to lead to global warming of 2.8 degrees C by 2100, the report warns.

As such, the world is on track to massively overshoot both the 1.5 degrees C warming goal and the "well below" 2 degrees C limit governments agreed to under the 2015 Paris Agreement, with scientists warning ecosystems are being subjected to irreversible damage and human civilization is already facing unprecedented temperatures.

The latest report focuses heavily on the importance of preparing societies around the world for increasingly dangerous climate impacts that are unavoidable. More frequent and intense weather events are already evident today in every region and will escalate with every increment of warming, hitting vulnerable communities and ecosystems hardest, the report warns.

Reiterating calls set out in previous IPCC reports, the coalition of global scientists warned all sectors of the economy must undergo "rapid and far-reaching transitions" that involve deep reductions in carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions will need to be cut by 43 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2035 if they are to be kept under the critical 1.5 degrees C limit. Global emissions rose again last year and are not expected to peak until 2025 at the earliest.

The latest report focuses heavily on the importance of preparing societies around the world for increasingly dangerous climate impacts that are unavoidable.

"Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits," said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. "This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a livable sustainable future for all."

The analysis concludes the latest series of climate reports published by the IPCC, known as the sixth assessment cycle, which digested scientific research published about climate change since 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed.

IPCC reports are influential as they are formally endorsed by governments and are used by policymakers to inform their actions and shape United Nations climate negotiations. They are also a valuable tool for businesses looking to understand the escalating material risks rising temperatures pose to their operations and the future direction of climate policymaking.

We have the solutions

A summary of the report was approved early Sunday at a meeting in Inkerland, Switzerland, but agreement on the main text dragged on for several more hours amid a row between rich and developing countries over emissions targets and financial aid.

The report also provides an update on global efforts to curb emissions, with the adoption of low-carbon technologies, shifting patterns of consumption and demand, socio-cultural behavioral changes, enhancements to technological efficiency and a major boost to nature and conservation efforts all singled out as key ways to accelerate decarbonization efforts and enhance citizens' resilience to climate impacts.

The report repeatedly emphasizes that these solutions are not only available, and are in many cases rapidly falling in cost, but can also unlock multiple benefits to society, such as improved public health, enhanced human well-being and the opening up of new employment opportunities.

However, the report also lamented the slow progress in the adoption of low-carbon technologies and business models. It warned that to prove effective and gain social acceptance, low-carbon and climate-resilient development must be informed by diverse values, scientific information and input from local and indigenous communities.

"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," Lee said. "We live in a diverse world in which everyone has different responsibilities and different opportunities to bring about change. Some can do a lot while others will need support to help them manage the change."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the report as a "survival guide for humanity." "It shows the 1.5-degree limit is achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action," he said. "This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once." 

The report stresses that policymakers must focus on climate adaptation measures alongside efforts to reduce their emissions, noting that options to help citizens, infrastructure and ecosystems adjust to new climate realities will only become less effective and more constrained as climate impacts worsen.

"Adaptation options that are feasible and effective today will become constrained and less effective with increasing global warming," the report notes. "With increasing global warming, losses and damages will increase and additional human and natural systems will reach adaptation limits."

Finance, technology and international cooperation are identified as the key levers that must be pulled to fast-track climate action and ensure development is climate-resilient and aligned with sustainable development goals.

Finance going to emissions reduction projects alone will need to increase by a factor of three to six to put the world on track for a 2 degrees C or 1.5 degrees C pathway by 2030, the scientists said.

There is enough capital in the global financial system to close the massive investment gap slowing the adoption of climate technologies and practices, but funds continue to flow to the wrong places, it notes. Climate-vulnerable and under-developed nations continue to have the most difficulty accessing climate finance, despite needing it most, while more public and private finance flows to fossil fuels than climate adaptation and mitigation projects.

"Accelerated climate action will only come about if there is a manifold increase in finance," said report author Christopher Trisos. "Insufficient and misaligned finance is holding back progress."

Governments, investors, central banks and financial regulators all have a role to play to tackle barriers to climate investment that are contributing to climate change, the report notes, urging stakeholders to share technologies, know-how and policy best practices.

The report repeatedly emphasizes that solutions are not only available, and in many cases they are rapidly falling in cost and can unlock multiple benefits to society.

Nina Seega, director for the center for sustainable finance at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership, said climate considerations needed to be brought into every financial decision.

"This means adequately pricing climate-related financial risks. It also means multiplying our investments in and providing insurance for viable climate resilient solutions for mitigation and adaptation across the world," she said. "To attract such quantities of private finance, public finance as well as regulatory and policy action is required to demolish real and perceived investment barriers.

"Against the backdrop of a brewing banking crisis, there is an opportunity for all financial actors to work together to better align the financial system to a net zero, nature positive and equitable economy."

The report notes that any "overshoot" of the 1.5 degrees C limit will have irreversible adverse impacts on some ecosystems, such as polar, mountain and coastal habitats. The larger the overshoot, the more carbon removal technologies and projects would need to be deployed to return to 1.5 degrees C by 2100, it stated.

The report also warned that emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure will exceed what is left of the global carbon budget for 1.5 degrees C of warming by 2030, reiterating warnings that the opening up of more fossil fuel reserves risked breaching the goals of the Paris Agreement.

'Most dire and troubling assessment yet'

Sara Shaw, program coordinator at Friends of the Earth, said it was concerning that many of the report's predictions assumed an overshoot that would necessitate carbon removals technologies. "This report is the most dire and troubling assessment yet of the spiraling climate impacts we all face if systemic changes are not made now," she said. "We must heed the IPCC's urgent messages, without falling into the trap of assuming that carbon dioxide removal will save the day." 

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said the report made clear that the technological solutions and economic case for climate action was more compelling than ever.

"Rather than throwing lifelines to dodgy nuclear and unproven carbon capture schemes, the government should grasp the renewable energy system that will bring cleaner air, green jobs and cheaper and more secure supply," she said. "But that also means closing the stopcock before our house floods. Fossil fuel companies have access to infrastructure and reserves that will force global warming beyond dangerous limits. We absolutely cannot risk more exploration and drilling. Fossil fuel companies must stop drilling and start paying tax on their bumper profits so we can ramp up renewables and support the most affected people worldwide."

The report is published as climate ministers and envoys convene in Copenhagen for a two-day meeting hosted by COP27 President Sameh Shoukry of Egypt, COP28 President-Designate Dr Sultan Al-Jaber and Denmark's energy and climate minister Dan Jorgenson.

The meeting, co-chaired by UNFCCC executive secretary Simon Stiell, is focused on the implementation of the accord signed at COP27, known as the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, and preparations for COP28, where the first Global Stocktake of progress against the goals of the Paris Agreement will take place.

The meeting has been billed as the first time climate ministers have met in person since the COP27 Climate Summit and should help to inform the UAE's plans for this year's COP28 Summit in Dubai.

The release of the IPCC report means diplomats and world leaders can expect to face ever more intense calls for governments to deliver a bolder international agreement to fully phase out unabated fossil fuel use and drastically increase investment in clean technologies and climate resilience measures, especially in climate vulnerable and developing economies.

This story first appeared on:


More on this topic