On February 28, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released yet another report related to global warming. It was eagerly awaited by experts interested in the issue of climate change.
“This report sends a very serious warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chairman of the IPCC.
For the general public, it is important to specify the nature of this report and the context surrounding its publication. It is also relevant to address the main conclusions drawn by the IPCC and the interest of taking an interest in them for Canadian citizens, and to study the reception of this report and its potential impact on political decision-makers.
I am a professor of international environmental law and participated as an observer in the COP26 on climate, organized in Glasgow in 2021.
The most recent and accurate scientific data
The report - Climate change 2022: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability – is a document produced by working group II of the IPCC, which is responsible for synthesizing scientific data on the consequences, adaptation and vulnerability in relation to global warming.
Since 1988, the IPCC has the mission "to evaluate, without bias and in a methodical, clear and objective way, the scientific, technical and socio-economic information which is necessary for us to better understand the scientific bases of the risks linked to climate change in human origin, identify more precisely the possible consequences of this change and consider possible adaptation and mitigation strategies". The report of working group II is therefore the most up-to-date summary of the effects and risks associated with global warming.
It is a monumental 3-page report produced by 270 authors from 67 countries. The report is based on more than 34 bibliographical references and was the subject of 000 comments made by experts and governments. It is therefore a source of information that is both highly documented, but also very credible with regard to the effects and risks associated with global warming.
The ultimate goal is therefore to provide our decision-makers (and the public) with the most recent and accurate scientific data possible. This report is also an opportunity to measure the evolution of the situation since the previous IPCC summary, published in 2014.
More and more alarming conclusions
Essential reading of the latest IPCC report tells us that the planet's temperature has already risen by 1,09 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial levels. And the probability that we will achieve a 1,5 degree Celsius increase is more than 50%. This observation by the IPCC contrasts with the optimism displayed by certain representatives who, at the end of COP26 on the climate, affirmed that the objective of maintaining the rise in temperature below 1,5 degrees Celsius was still vivant. It is important to emphasize that this rise to 1,5 degrees Celsius will already have very serious consequences for our societies and the environment.
Thus, the latest IPCC report is (unsurprisingly) damning and very alarming regarding the effects and risks associated with global warming. Indeed, scientific data shows that global warming causes more intense and more frequent extreme events. We can think in particular of Forest fires that hit British Columbia last year. Faced with these risks, human populations are not on an equal footing and are not affected in the same way.
IPCC Working Group II emphasizes in particular the vulnerability of low-income populations or even marginalized populations. The report notes that 3,3 to 3,6 billion people, i.e. half of humanity, live in a context of high vulnerability to global warming, hence the importance of setting up a more greater climate justice both locally and internationally.
The IPCC report defines 127 key risks which are classified into 8 categories, including risks to terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems, risks to human health, risks to food security and risks associated with infrastructure. The trends established by the IPCC regarding these medium and long-term risks point to an increase. The IPCC also highlights the fact that the impacts and risks associated with global warming are increasingly complex and difficult to manage and that there is a real risk of runaway and cascading effects. In this context, the Canada and North America are not spared and are already suffering multiple effects of global warming.
We may be tempted to reassure ourselves that progress has been made in planning and implementing adaptation measures. Unfortunately, the IPCC points out that many initiatives focus on short-term risk reduction. In doing so, we limit the implementation of transformative adaptation measures, particularly with regard to our production and consumption patterns.
In North America, the main barriers towards better adaptation are the disinformation linked to climate science and the fragmentation of the actions of the various competent authorities in terms of planning, disaster management, mitigation and adaptation in the face of global warming.
A very limited window of opportunity
The recent report of the IPCC does not content itself with drawing up a bleak assessment of the situation. Indeed, almost a third of the report deals with adaptation possibilities and their feasibility. The IPCC discusses avenues for transition with regard to terrestrial and marine ecosystems (for example the establishment of warning systems), cities and infrastructures (for example better urban planning) and the energy sector (eg diversification of energy sources based on renewable energy) as well as cross-cutting opportunities (eg strengthening of health systems).
Once again, the IPCC emphasizes that the feasibility of implementing these avenues depends on each context and above all that the window of opportunity is currently very limited in time.
Insofar as this is the sixth report of this type produced by the IPCC, we can legitimately wonder whether our governments are aware of the seriousness of the situation and the extent of the measures to be taken. This latest report has already sparked reactions. Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault said that this report “only reinforces the will of the government”. He also affirmed that it was time to tackle the sources of the problem, namely fossil fuels, at the heart of our economies and our way of life, and which are sources of greenhouse gases.
In this sense, the Minister of the Environment is in line with the Glasgow Pact, adopted on the occasion of COP26, which for the first time in history evoked a gradual exit from fossil fuels. Will Minister Guilbeault put his money where his mouth is by refusing the North Bay oil project ? Will the federal government take the findings of this report into account in the new climate action plan that he must publish in a few weeks?
While the IPCC report highlights the uneven and disproportionate distribution of the effects and risks of global warming, Canada does not yet seem to take full measure of the seriousness of the situation and especially of its responsibility. Indeed, Canada enjoys a special responsibility because of its historical contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, our current lifestyles, but also because of the technological and financial capacity to act for adaptation.
However, as pointed out Hoesung Lee, on the occasion of the publication of the new report, it is urgent “to take immediate and more ambitious measures to face climate risks. Half measures are no longer possible.
How many more times will it have to be demonstrated and repeated?
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