We'd forgive you, distracted by some of the political debacles in recent weeks, if you missed the recent climate report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). But fear not - we're digesting the Carbon Brief's breakdown, so you don't have to. 🕵🏽🌏🌡️
Yep we sell ethical underwear (and the odd accessory these days too but since this report affects the whole of humanity we thought it was worth a read - and sharing what we've learnt with our wonderful community.
What is this new report?
At the end of 2015 nearly 200 countries agreed on "keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels*" and to aim for 1.5C at the UN Paris Climate Conference. Although not binding, each nation has put together its own plan to reach that target (If you want to nerd out a bit those are called Nationally determined contributions or NDCs 🤓) . Climate negotiators called on scientists to explore the possible ways to curb CO2 levels to 1.5C of pre-industrial levels* and the difference between half a degree in terms of impact on the planet and us humans. So in October 2018, the SR15 was launched, authored by 91 men and women from 40 different countries assessing over 6000 research papers.
That is some serious number crunching.
And that's a lot of data to analyse and the IPCC report itself is over a thousand pages long. Thankfully accessible climate communication efforts from the likes of Carbon Brief, The Guardian, Grist and Sustainababble makes wading through the science, the line graphs and the jargon a little easier.
Wait who is the IPCC?
Grist come to the rescue here and explain: The IPCC is a group of "climate scientists from around the world [who] volunteer their time to analyze and summarize the latest and best science. The result: Big, fat reports." If you want to find out more take a look at their article hilariously titled "WTF is the IPCC?"
OK here are 4 takeaways from the report in everyday language - with links and resources for those who want to dive into it in more detail. We've made a few attempts to lighten the mood as well.
Right - deep breath - here goes!
1. Climate Change is Here. The Time is Now
The time has well passed for debating the validity of climate change, there has been a 97% consensus amongst climate scientists for years - the conversation is now about what do we do about climate change? And can we minimise its impact before it's too late? One of the main messages coming through the report is the sense of urgency.
We have 12 years to curb global warming before we risk "drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people." says The Guardian. Twelve years really doesn’t seem that far away does it? Even for the commitment-phobes among us.
Kaisa Kosonen of Greenpeace could not have said it clearer: "Scientists might want to write in capital letters, 'ACT NOW, IDIOTS,' but they need to say that with facts and numbers. And they have."
If all the nations stick by their climate plans (that scale up each year), combined, it would still not be enough to stay below 2C. In fact at the IPCC launch report scientists said at our current rate we are heading towards a 3C rise. 📈Here's a nice thermometer graphic from Climate Action Tracker to help spell that out.
2. There is a big difference between a rise in 1.5 degree increase and 2 degrees
In fact the biggest chapter in the report is dedicated to showing that difference. McGrath from the BBC summarises plainly: "This new study says that going past 1.5C is dicing with the planet's liveability."
Holding warming to 1.5C rather than 2C will see around 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves, the report notes.
At 2C of warming, coral reefs “mostly disappear”. However, even achieving 1.5C “will result in the further loss of 90% of reef-building corals compared to today”, the report warns.
We could lose 18% of insect species at 2C, that is reduced to 8% at 1.5C
Or as one climate reporter on Twitter explained using Hollywood analogies; "the difference between 1.5C and 2C is basically the difference between the Hunger Games and Mad Max."
Yipes! We're with you Katniss!
The Carbon Brief put together a great interactive webpage that highlights the differences for animals, food, health, weather the whole shebang. Well, learning about the possible doom of humanity should be engaging should it not! Check it out here.
Spelled out like this - it seems like 1.5C is worth fighting for. And there is some good news...
3. 1.5C is technically possible but the world will need to emitting net-zero carbon by 2050
Ok, 'net-zero' is a bit jargon-y, think of it like your bank account in reverse; we can emit some carbon into the atmosphere but we have got to suck it back out again to keep our balance at 0.
Huge changes are going to have to happen fast at every level of humanity in order for us to get to net-zero. We'll have to completely rethink how we consume energy and where it comes from, how we use the land, how we farm, how we eat and how we consume material goods, explains Carbon Brief.
Some of the ideas for the big carbon-suck, as we're now calling it, sound like science fiction. They've given it a name, 'solar geoenginering'; basically "untested technologies that could, theoretically, reduce global warming by increasing the amount of sunlight that is reflected away from the Earth."
Once such example is "stratospheric aerosol injection", which to be honest, we can't get our head around. And there's a lot of controversy that these approaches act as a 'Get-out of Carbon Limiting' Free card.
However there are VERY simple carbon-sucking solutions - and the simplest of all - growing more trees!
4. Reforestation will be vital.
The report calls it a 'negative emissions technology' but we like to think about, a part of it at least, as getting down and dirty in the soil. We will need to plant more trees and regenerate natural habitats that have degraded. (Is anyone else's reaction to this conclusion: Well duh!)
And a world with more trees will surely be a more wonderful and happier place for biodiversity, peoples who depend on the forest for their livelihoods and even those that don't - plenty of research has shown that immersing ourselves in nature benefits our physical and mental health. In fact, Scottish GPs have just started prescribing nature.
There is a but. (C'mon, you probably knew one was coming!) We are going to need to plant 500 million hectares of trees, Carbon Brief say that's the equivalent to an Argentina-sized forest. *Just pause there while your brain explodes.* And when you're talking about that kind of scale - it's going to infringe on land being used for other purposes - so inclusive decision-making and informed consent needs to be in the reforestation process.
There are other types of negative emissions technology being discussed as well and you can find out more here
And now what?
“I hope this [report] can change the world,” said Jiang Kejun of China and one of the authors of the report.
Of course the report delves into lots of other areas; what might it cost financially to build the infrastructure for a 1.5C world, what happens if we go over 1.5C for a short period of time and then bring it back down etc. And there's lots of line graphs and charts to feast on if that's your thang 📈. If you're still here you might like to check out the In-dept Q&A Carbon Brief put together.
Encouragingly, the release of this report made a lot of frontpage headlines but we need to keep the conversation going as Stephen Cornelius, WWF-UK's chief adviser for climate change, and a former IPCC negotiator explains, "Some people say the 1.5C target is impossible, but the difference between possible and impossible is political leadership."
And the Sustainababble podcast duo pointed out - we aren't even really trying yet! There is so much we can do individually, in our communities, as cultures, as a species to alter our current trajectory. Have a listen to their episode on the IPCC report; it's equally informative, funny, silly and poignant.
We'll finish on what Dave from Sustainababble thinks we can do tomorrow:
“But what can I do about climate change?”
Tomorrow: 1) political: tell your MP etc you only vote for good climate policies 2) money: move to ethical bank and pension provider & tell old one why 3) culture: talk about climate to friends & family 4) consumption: eat less meat
This blog post is because of point #3 - we need to talk about climate change, more often and in a variety of ways.
*pre-industrial levels - means returning to levels of carbon dioxide in the air before the Industrial Revolution began. You know, when Britain started mining coal in the 1800s, burning it and then pretty quickly lots of other wealthy nations followed suit. When the 'Western mindset shifted to seeing nature as a commodity and something to exploit. Find out more here.