3 reasons to read the Latest Big UN Climate Report

For the past 13 months, the scientists and experts from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been pouring over the latest data that reflects the most up-to-date understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change. This week marks a big inflection point in this process with the publication of a so-called Synthesis Report to express the “current expert consensus about climate change and its consequences.” 

The report is more than just a cut-and-paste summary of the previous five IPCC reports, over 800 scientists’ viewpoints, and several thousand scientific papers. Rather, this paper provides a basis for action by policymakers and strikes a stronger tone for climate action than the scientific community has ever done before. Here are three reasons why you should add the report to your reading list this week:

Sets the stage for Paris

The document will serve as the foundation for any agreement that will ratified by member countries in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations.  Countries will convene in Lima this December, but the ultimate deadline will be at the summit in Paris at the end of 2015. In other words, the Synthesis Report is the voice of science in what world leaders hope will be a new global treaty on climate change.  If policy makers want science to drive this discussion, the Synthesis Report should be their climate action bible. 

From the tone of the final text, the scientists have done their best to address the economic factors weighing on politicians who may be opposed to costly mitigation efforts — a point that has held back negotiations up until now. In fact, the report points to the exact opposite. There is also a much more clear emphasis on the ‘big picture’ in this Synthesis Report compared to previous IPCC reports. The Report basically predicts that there will be major global food crises if global warming is not addressed in the shirt term (instead of waiting until 2020, when the Paris treaty goes into enforcement.) Demonstrating the stark connection between wheat production problems in the U.S. or Russia to increases in food prices and civil unrest in countries dependent on food imports, like the Middle East, central Africa, and small island developing states could force negotiators to come to the table with more conciliatory positions. 

Ending the debate

The final text essentially says the IPCC is 95% certain of man’s contribution to climate change. One paragraph states that if fossil fuels continue to be burned, causing emissions of greenhouse gases, there will be “further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” It is fairly obvious from comments coming out of Copenhagen, where the report was finalized, that any information indicating the human role in contributing to climate change has been put in for political reasons and aimed towards countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia where there are powerful pockets of politicians that still doubt the human impact on climate. If there was any lingering doubt about the causes of climate change, they should now be fully put to rest. 

Voice of developing countries

For years developing countries and their booming populations have banded together and fought a hard battle in the climate negotiations.  The topic of loss and damages, the idea that developed countries should compensate developing countries in some way for the devastation and natural disasters the former’s actions have caused, has been a recurring nightmare.  As India and Brazil have rapidly grown though, a new developing country voice has emerged. Though it seems as they are opposed to implementing the stark ‘carbon budget’ proposed by the IPCC because coal is cheap and facilitates faster economic growth, they also realize the need to make increased investments in renewable energy as developed countries drag their feet.

The report does show that developing regions of South Asia and Africa are bearing the brunt of higher temperatures more immediately than the developed countries, but developing countries are coming to the negotiating table with the knowledge that they need to do their part in limiting emissions as well.

Overall the Synthesis Report will be an interesting read on the nexus of the political and scientific and well worth the read just for that.  Its importance cannot be understated either, as we head into Paris in 2015 with coal, emissions, damages, and infrastructure adaptation in tow.  The 175 page report issued on Sunday could make the difference between keeping the world under 2°C, and avoiding a nightmare scenario that the report predicts will befall humanity should that target not be reached.