The new IPCC report (AR6) – an introduction

The IPCC is one of the world’s biggest scientific projects, with thousands of scientists in dozens of countries collaborating since 1988 to produce a series of reports. Its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) is in three parts. Working Group 1 released Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis last August, and WG2 has just released Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability which “assesses the impacts of climate change, looking at ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities at global and regional levels,” to quote its home page. Part 3 and a Summary will appear later this year.

Their vitally important report on climate risk appeared a few weeks ago but the announcement was swamped by the floods in SE Queensland and northern NSW, and the invasion of Ukraine. Even COVID was pushed off the front page, so what chance did climate science have?

AR6 Resources

The WG2 report runs to nearly 4000 pages plus supplementary material so the IPCC has summarised it for public consumption:

  • The Summary for Policy Makers (pdf) (SPM) is just under 40 pages. Not a word is wasted, so it’s slow reading, but it’s not too technical for the average reader.
  • For those with less time or commitment, there’s a one-page document, Summary for Policymakers Headline Statements, presenting the key points of the SPM as a “concise narrative.” This, in my opinion, is the best possible quick overview of the full report.
  • If that is still a little difficult, the press release is more audience-friendly. The page also has some supplementary information about the IPCC and links to more media resources (such as the images in this post), which will be useful to teachers and NGOs.

Other voices

If even the press release is a bit much, you may have to make do with my own impressions:

  • The science is more detailed but the big picture hasn’t changed much.
  • The impact of warming above 1.5°C will be worse than we thought a few years ago, but we’re not actually going to reach 1.5°C any sooner than we thought.
  • Poorer nations and especially coastal communities will suffer far more than richer nations, although they are responsible for very little of the climate change we are experiencing.
  • Extinction rates are horrific: 3 to 14% of species at global warming levels of 1.5°C, increasing up to 48% at 5°C.
  • We have made some progress, but we haven’t made enough progress on emissions reduction.
  • If we don’t do a lot more, soon, things will be so bad that we won’t be able to do anything, ever, because we will be locked in to a path to catastrophe.
  • There is still hope. There are still viable paths to a sustainable future. But they are quickly narrowing.

Realclimate, a long-running online community of climate scientists and interested readers, has published half a dozen articles on various aspects of the IPCC report. They are all introduced here.  As one might expect, some are too technical to interest the average reader but Gavin Schmidt’s short discussions of extreme weather, sea level rise, and droughts and floods are well worth a look. There are a lot of good comments in the discussion thread, too.

The IPCC’s last word

The IPCC also offers a range of “regional and crosscutting fact sheets [which] give a snapshot of the key findings.” At just two pages, Australasia (pdf) is a must-read for anyone engaged in environmental activism or education. It lists the key risks we face regionally and outlines the shrinking paths to adaptation, concluding with:

The projected global warming under current global emissions reduction policies would leave many of the region’s human and natural systems at very high risk and beyond adaptation limits (very high confidence). Delay in implementing adaptation and emission reductions will impede climate resilient development, resulting in more costly climate impacts and greater scale of adjustments. Reducing the risks would require significant and rapid emission reductions to keep global warming to 1.5-2.0°C, as well as robust and timely adaptation.

And the last words of the SPM, the literal bottom line?

The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

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