On November 2, members of the United Nations (U.N.) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finalized the Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report, the last in the most recent series of IPCC reports on climate change. The Synthesis Report is not a “cut-and-paste” of past Fifth Assessment IPCC reports, according to Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC since 2002. Instead, Pachauri says it offers an integrated approach which provides fresh insights on climate mitigation and adaptation “by highlighting contrasts and making comparisons between findings from all of these source documents.” It is Pachauri’s hope that the IPCC Synthesis Report, which was based on the findings of 800 scientists over a 13-month period, will both quicken and ease the decision-making process for an international climate deal, scheduled to be concluded during November 2015 U.N. talks in Paris.

From October 27 to 31, members of the IPCC met in Copenhagen, Denmark, to discuss the report and approve by consensus each sentence of the shorter Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers. The Synthesis Report and its summary will serve policymakers by comprehensively discussing the risks associated with climate change in a more reader-friendly format. This is particularly important, as while there are solutions available to mitigate climate change with little impact on economic growth and development, the political motivation to adopt these measures is often missing. Pachauri explained, “We have the means to limit climate change. . . All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”

The report also confirms that climate change is not only occurring, but happening at unprecedented rates. The world’s oceans and atmosphere are becoming warmer, Arctic sea ice levels and global snow cover are decreasing, the sea level is slowly rising and atmospheric carbon dioxide is at the highest level in over 800,000 years. The IPCC suggests that if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to increase at current levels, warming will continue to occur and long-lasting changes will be evident at every level of our climate system. This will increase the frequency of severe weather events and have impacts on natural and social systems globally. Many of the people most vulnerable to climate change impacts have been found to contribute least to GHG emissions, so issues of equity and social justice have been raised.  Pachauri said, “Addressing climate change will not be possible if individual agents advance their own interests independently; it can only be achieved through cooperative responses, including international cooperation.”

Vicente Barros, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group Two, said, “Adaption can play a key role in decreasing these risks [in regards to climate change].” But adaption alone will not be enough to deal with the effects of climate change. The IPCC recommends mitigation strategies as a way to reduce GHG emissions and buy time to begin adapting to changes already being seen today. Youba Sokona, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group Three, stated, “It is technically feasible to transition to a low carbon economy, but what is lacking are appropriate policies and institutions. The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.” Many scientists have found in their research that to stay below a two degree Celsius global temperature increase, emissions need to be cut 40 to 70 percent worldwide by 2050 and would need to fall to zero by 2100. 

Author: Brendan Ingargiola