The 5 Quotes You Need to Know from the IPCC Report
It's not too late. Yet.
On Monday, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 2023 synthesis report, which brings together eight years of research about the planet’s rising temperature. Described as a “final warning,” a “clarion call,” and a “how-to guide to defuse the climate time-bomb,” the report offers little in the way of new information, but much in terms of a statement on the certitude and urgency of the supporting science.
Here are five of the most important quotes from the report.
1. “Very high confidence.”
The IPCC report offers readers and policymakers “the stone-cold truth” about climate change, as “laid out in unassailable science by the world’s top climate experts,” Manish Bapna, the president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said. That conviction is echoed in the report’s multiple “very high confidence” assessments. There is virtually no doubt, for example, that “climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health,” that those dangers increase "with every increment of global warming," or that the atmospheric concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide “were higher [in 2019] than at any time in at least 800,000 years." Also of assurance is the fact that climate change has caused “mass mortality events" — and that to protect against future losses to humans and ecosystems, "deep, rapid, and sustained" reduction of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is required.
Overall, the phrase “high confidence” — including the highest-level calibration of “very high confidence” — appears 118 times in the 26-page summary, The Washington Post reports. The jury isn't out on the science.
2. “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”
One of the report’s starkest “very high confidence” assessments is that time is rapidly running out. “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” the authors warn.
The window is closing so rapidly, in fact, that the 2023 synthesis report is “almost certain” to be the last IPCC assessment "while the world still has a chance of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold beyond which our damage to the climate will rapidly become irreversible,” The Guardian writes.
That sense of a last chance can be felt throughout the report. Without "urgent, effective, and equitable” progress away from our current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the threats to human life and health and global diversity and ecosystems will increase in the coming years, the report warns. By that same token, the positive actions we take now could have beneficial “impacts now and for thousands of years.”
3. “Without a strengthening of policies, global warming of 3.2°C is projected by 2100.”
While the policies and laws in place to combat climate change have expanded since the last IPCC report was published in 2014, the authors found we still have a long way to go. Alarmingly, the current nationally set targets of the Paris climate agreement for curbing greenhouse gas emissions aren't strong enough, and “make it likely” that we will “exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century,” which in turn will “make it harder to limit warming below 2°C.” Without more ambitious targets and stronger action by governments around the world, “global warming of 3.2°C is projected by 2100,” the report found.
The good news is, a number of strategies for lowering greenhouse gas emissions are cheaper than ever before, including solar energy, wind energy, ways to reduce food waste, and better-managed crop and grasslands.
No one is safe from the coming changes. "Every region in the world is projected to face further increases in climate hazards,” the report found.
Risks anticipated in the near-term future include heat deaths; food-, water-, and vector-borne diseases; “mental health challenges”; flooding; biodiversity loss; and decreased food production in some regions. Additionally, “current 1-in-100 year extreme sea level events” are expected to take place yearly in more than half of all studied tidal regions by 2100 — “under all considered scenarios” — due to the rising sea levels, the IPCC report found. Intensified tropical cyclones and hurricanes are also on their way.
These dangers will only “escalate with every increment of global warming,” the authors wrote. But the suffering won’t be felt equally around the globe: Some 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in areas that leave them uniquely vulnerable to climate-related hazards. Oftentimes, such disproportionately-affected communities are ones that have historically contributed the least to climate change.
5. “Public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate adaptation and mitigation.”
If there was one overriding message in the IPCC, it’s that things need to change fast. Global warming is expected to continue to rise between now and 2040 due to increased cumulative CO2 emissions in “nearly all considered scenarios and modeled pathways,” the researchers found.
The only way to limit manmade warming is net zero CO2 emissions. What exactly does that involve? “A substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use” is the big one — along with electrification, energy conservation, and other energy advances. While good progress has been made funneling money towards those sorts of projects, we have not turned the tide just yet, as “public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate adaptation and mitigation.”
But as the authors emphasized time and time again, how effectively and how soon we cut off our emissions will largely be what determines “whether warming can be limited to 1.5°C or 2°C.” Keeping the fossil fuel infrastructure we have now, without abatement, however, would doom us to enough CO2 emissions that we “exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C.”