Amid Floods and Flames Key UN Climate Science Negotiations Begin

On Monday, over 200 countries will begin online negotiations to ratify a UN science report that will serve as the foundation for autumn conferences aimed at averting global climate calamity.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment is more than timely, given recent record-breaking heatwaves, floods, and drought over three continents, all exacerbated by global warming.

Richard Black, founder and senior associate of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit in London believes that it’s going to be a wake-up call for everyone.

He pointed out that the report comes just weeks before the United Nations General Assembly, the G20 summit, and the 197-nation COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Since the IPCC’s latest thorough assessment of global warming, past and future, in 2014, the globe has changed dramatically.

In the haze of fatal heatwaves and fires, any remaining doubts that warming was accelerating or was nearly totally human-caused have vanished, as has the deceptively soothing assumption that climate consequences are a worry for tomorrow.

Since the latest IPCC report, the Paris Agreement has been adopted, with a collective vow to keep global warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) above late nineteenth-century levels.

According to the International Energy Agency(IEA), carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels, methane leaks, and agriculture has raised the temperature by 1.1 degrees Celsius so far, and emissions are growing quickly again after a brief, Covid-imposed pause.

Many parties, no doubt, believe this target can be safely ignored. The 2015 pact also includes an aspirational limit on the warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, a special assessment published by the IPCC in 2018 demonstrated how much more disastrous an increase in 2 degrees Celsius will be for humans and the earth.

To stay within a 1.5-degree Celsius range, scientists estimate that greenhouse gas emissions must drop 50% by 2030 and be taken out totally by 2050. A third major shift in the last seven years has occurred in science.

The so-called attribution studies, which for the first time allow scientists to quickly quantify the extent to which climate change has increased the intensity or likelihood of extreme weather events, are arguably the most significant breakthrough.

For example, the World Weather Attribution group predicted within days of the fatal “heat dome” that scorched Canada and the western United States last month that the heatwave would have been almost unthinkable without manmade warming.

However, retrospective analysis is not the same as foresight, and the IPCC, which was established in 1988 to advise UN climate discussions, has been chastised for downplaying the threat, a tendency described by Harvard scientific historian Naomi Oreskes as “erring on the side of least drama.”

Representatives from 195 countries will scrutinise a 20 to 30-page “summary for policymakers” line by line, word by word, beginning Monday.

The virtual conference for this first chapter of the three-part report, which covers physical science, will take two weeks instead of the normal one, with the document’s release set for August 9. Impacts will be covered in Part 2 of the report, which will be released in February 2022.

Even if planet-warming carbon pollution is regulated, climate change will profoundly redefine life on Earth in the coming decades and urges for “transformational change” lest future generations face far worse.

Part three, which will be released next month, will look at ways to reduce emissions. The study under consideration this week will almost certainly foresee a short “overshoot” of the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, even in the most optimistic scenarios.

There will also be a renewed emphasis on so-called “low-probability, high-risk” catastrophes, such as irreversible ice sheet melting, which could raise sea levels by metres, and permafrost disintegration laden with greenhouse gases.

Photo Credit: