Five years, 2,000 scientists, and 30,000 research papers later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued the final section of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) this week. Widely regarded as the most comprehensive and authoritative body of scientific research on climate change to date, the AR5 is irrefutable evidence to back climate action movements across the globe, and is the foundation from which world leaders meeting at upcoming UNFCCC climate negotiations will draft the policies that will shape our future, and that of the Earth and coming generations, in a profound way.
The AR5 climate report is at once terrifying and hopeful. It tells us that that climate change is unequivocally the result of human action, that it is accelerating rapidly and unpredictably, and that it is not a future apocalypse, but rather a daily reality already felt by hundreds of thousands worldwide. Impacts are being experienced on every continent and in the farthest depths of the oceans. Everyone and everything is affected.
AR5 data on change in Earth’s surface temperature, 1986-2005 and 2081-2100. Source: The Guardian
The report confirms that we have already seen 0.85 degrees Celsius warming above pre-industrial levels. If ‘business as usual’ continues we can expect 4 degrees warming by 2100, bringing severely crippled food and water security, economic collapse, deadly weather, mass species extinction, sea level rise, exacerbated social inequalities, and other massive disruptions (Source: Climate Nexus). As we stand, carbon emissions are actually still rising and we find ourselves vastly unprepared, socially, economically, and politically, to face the instability ahead.
AR5 data on global sea level rise. Source: The Guardian
The “severe, pervasive, and irreversible,” climate impacts forecasted in the AR5 are not, however, set in stone. The IPCC models affirm that we may be able to stay below the 2 degree Celsius warming threshold, and possibly even the 1.5 degree cap supported by many island states, acutely vulnerable nations, and our Women’s Climate Action Agenda, if, and only if, we act immediately.
The report is thus yet another and important jarring call to action. It tells us that we cannot shrug this off as a problem for future generations- this is in fact the most important issue of our time. Only action and sweeping change now will have any chance of averting irreversible tipping points.
Petroleum extraction in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo by Emily Arasim.
For the team at the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International), one of the most striking aspects of the report is the way in which it parallels the bold calls which have been emanating for years from communities from the far reaches of the Amazon jungle, to the Alberta tar sands, to the streets of New York City: keep the oil in the ground. As the report makes clear, we stand no chance of a livable world below the 2 or 1.5-degree threshold unless we do exactly this.
The IPCC data draws a clear red line: 2,900 gigatons of carbon is the all time maximum amount that can be emitted into the atmosphere if the Earth is to have a fair chance of staying below catastrophic levels of warming (Source: Tree Alerts). We have already devoured more than two thirds of this budget, and oil and gas companies have made plans to burn fossil fuel reserves more than four times greater than what can be released if we wish to avoid unleashing climate chaos. It’s clear then, that to stop ourselves from locking in catastrophic levels of extraction and emissions, we must create strict policies and aggressively begin divesting from fossil fuels and transitioning to a 100% renewable energy future.
WECAN International leaders & allies at the People’s Climate March.
To be precise, the report calculates that starting now and for decades into the future we will need to divest at minimum $30 billion USD annually from the fossil fuel industry, while investing at least $147 billion USD per year in clear energy alternatives (Source: EcoWatch). According to report targets, we must triple our use of zero and low carbon energy by 2025 and move towards 100% renewables quickly thereafter (Source: Tree Alerts).
As climate activist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben explained,
“Breaking the power of the fossil fuel industry won’t be easy, especially since it has to happen fast. It has to happen, in fact, before the carbon we’ve unleashed into the atmosphere breaks the planet. I’m not certain we’ll win this fight – but, thanks to the IPCC, no one will ever be able to say they weren’t warned.” (Source: The Guardian)
There are of course, limitations to the report, most stemming from the fact that the majority underwent line-by-line approval and editing by representatives from over 100 nations. There is, for example, great emphasis on how little climate action will affect the economy. This is falsely comforting given the deep ways in which we must challenge the economic system if we wish to build a livable future founded on respect for the Earth and all of its creatures. A system that works within the Earth’s finite limits simply cannot look anything like the endless economic growth models that we know now. That said, the underlying economic message of the AR5 is crucial; those who say addressing climate change is too difficult or too costly are simply wrong.
Women leaders share their solutions at a WECAN International Event in NYC. Photo by Emily Arasim.
Many of the most difficult questions, of course, remain unanswered: how will we address injustices and imbalances between those who have contributed most to climate change, and those who have contributed little but are suffering first? How will we make sure our policies respect the Earth and Rights of Nature? How will we insure that the wisdom and solutions of Indigenous and frontline communities guide our frameworks? How will we insure that women’s voices shape the agenda, and that policies are gender sensitive?
The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network’s (WECAN International) newly released Women’s Climate Action Agenda is our contribution to answering these pressing questions. The Action Agenda founds it’s scientific assessment in the same truths set forth in the AR5, but also goes on to analyze the root causes of the crisis and lay out an action plan which aims to not only to lessen climate impacts, but to help develop and actualize a transformation towards climate justice.
Next month as world leaders gather at the UNFCCC COP20 in Lima, Peru to begin drafting a comprehensive international agreement on climate change, WECAN International will be on the ground with the Women’s Climate Action Agenda in hand, ready to advocate and push for genuine solutions that mirror the severity of the crisis as outlined in the AR5, and as experienced by women across the world.
WECAN Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, advocating at the UNFCCC COP19 negotiations.
We need to tip the scales. The Earth has spoken, the people have spoken, and the scientists have spoken, our leaders have a clear choice to make: surefire climate chaos or an immediate change of direction for a healthy future. One piece of good news is that the IPCC report has generated a real conversation about completely phasing out fossil fuels and creating a zero carbon future, with serious discussion now being had at the U.N. and in the international media.
What we need now then, is the people power and leadership to insure that international action to confront the climate crisis is truly transformational and founded in principles of justice. The analysis and solutions put forth in the Women’s Climate Action Agenda are inspired by the work of hundreds of women on the frontlines of climate change worldwide, and we will work ceaselessly to insure that these voices are heard.
Click here to download the Women’s Climate Action Agenda and join us in our work for climate justice and solutions.
Blog by: Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN International Co-Founder & Executive Director) and Emily Arasim (Special Projects & Communications Coordinator)