We Can Act Now, We Must Act Now: Analyzing the IPCC AR5 Climate Report

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: T