That Climate Change Report That You Might Have Possibly Read?

We are worse off than we had anticipated, and we must prepare for a much hotter future. However, the focus should only be on what we can and should do (i.e., prepare), and nothing else.

If there is one thing that is the bane of our existence (and I am not talking about human-induced climate change, yet), it is our inability to do away with sensationalism when we write or speak about matters of significant public interest – like human-induced climate change.

Let us start with a rather easy question, that is also timeless.

How do you convince leaders of sovereign nations and large portions of the global population about a problem that is some time in the future, is not fully visible, and escalating rapidly?

More on this later.

Everybody with a functioning internet and a device is sure to have read about, if not read, the latest report on the climate crisis published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This is the sixth edition of the Assessment Report or AR6, and one that has generated significant attention, possibly more than all previous assessments combined, which is both good and bad.

Climate Change isn’t a simple subject, and the worst that we can do is to condense its complexity into hard-hitting headlines and pass off a few tartly written paragraphs as informed views. The media reporting since the report was published has successfully transformed an extremely serious situation that warrants reflection, and both individual and collective action, into a Mad Max type of future that is a foregone conclusion.

Granted, not everybody has the appetite to understand every aspect of climate change in its entirety, and not every media house has the wherewithal to represent an extremely scientific report to a largely non-scientific audience. But they sure can steer clear of doomsday headlines and images.

Here’s a sample, courtesy The Ken

(Now the featured image on this post should make more sense)

Making a complex subject simplistic for the sake of digestibility is outright irresponsible, and that makes me angry.

There are no surprises in the report, and it does not include things that the scientific community did not know earlier. Sure, the report uses more definitive language in this edition compared to previous editions, because, well the science is definitive now.

By design, this report was also not supposed to discuss solutions, which means that it wasn’t supposed to offer hope for the future.

Before I get into that, here is a little background about the agency that put this report out.

What is this IPCC and what exactly are they assessing in their Assessment Reports?

The IPCC or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an independent body convened by the United Nations to assess the science related to climate change.

Since its inception in 1988, it provides regular assessments based on science about the state of global climate change, impacts and future risks, and ways to adapt to or mitigate these risks.

Here is a little rundown about what they have done so far –

— Leading powers found it cute when IPCC published its First Assessment Report (FAR) in 1990, stating that climate change is an important global challenge to overcome and one that warrants international cooperation.

— The Second Assessment Report (SAR) in 1997 provided scientific evidence to countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the first multilateral agreement where industrialised countries and the European Union agreed *cough* to ‘binding’ emission reduction targets by a five-year period between 2008 and 2012.

— The Third Assessment Report (TAR) in 2001, riding high on the immense success of the previous two reports, continued to remain polite and elaborated on the impact of climate change on the world and various adaptation strategies for countries to consider.

— The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007 focused on limiting earth’s average increase in temperature to below 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels and with childlike naïveté.

— The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in 2014 was finalised in the build-up to the Paris Climate Agreement which widened the onus on all countries to come up with Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), because industrialised nations fully upheld their Kyoto Protocol commitments.

In fact, they were so successful that they followed the Kyoto Protocol with a Doha amendment in 2012 to include a second commitment period between 2013 and 2020. For the curious, the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 ‘requested’ each country to outline and communicate their post-2020 climate actions, or their NDCs. All countries happily obliged.

Enough snark. Get to the point.

The latest report in the series or the Sixth Assessment Report, widely dubbed as a seminal document on the impact of climate change, brings together the most up-to-date scientific evidence on our understanding of the observed climate systems, how it has changed over the recent years, its drivers, and likelihoods of future scenarios with varying degrees of confidence based on past and present data points, and future estimates.

It is important to note that the IPCC does not conduct its own research and the latest report brings together evidence from over 14,000 scientific papers and was put together by 274 volunteer scientists. Furthermore, it was approved by 195 countries that were a part of this ‘intergovernmental’ panel on climate change.

This is also only the report of the first of three working groups on the physical science basis of climate change.

There are three more reports to come –

1/ Report by the 2nd working group on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, expected in February 2022

2/ Report by the 3rd working group on mitigation of climate change, expected in March 2022 (see, solutions!), and

3/ A final synthesis report Climate Change 2022, to be published in September 2022

The recently published report, AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, outlines the effects on observed climate and environments using paleo reconstructions (or historic geological reconstructions), current observations, and climate model estimations into the future. This is the highest quality of evidence currently possible in human history, and that is what we can use.

The report also distinguishes and appropriately attributes observed changes and its causes to human-influence and naturally occurring variations (which is important to discern) on the following – atmosphere, oceans and water bodies, ecosystem of living organisms, and snow and ice cover. One of the key problems of the climate crisis is an increased frequency of extreme-weather events (which would otherwise occur naturally albeit at a lower frequency) due to human-induced variations in our physical environments.

Okay, what gives?

The IPCC and its reports have historically had a crucial role to play in advancing our scientific understanding of how we are directly responsible for a future where life is going to be very harsh due to extreme weather changes.

The IPCC speaks to policymakers and much like every other ‘multilateral’ agency founded by western powers, it implores for global coordination. The geopolitical friction between the West and the East, which has very different levels of industrialisation, human development indicators, and contrasting ways of remembering the last two centuries of human history, makes global coordination a rather difficult summit to scale.

The argument of developing nations in Asia and Africa is that the industrialised countries were responsible for 79% of global emissions between 1850 and 2011. At the same time, climate risks are relatively higher in the developing world compared to the developed world.

About that timeless question…

How do you convince leaders of sovereign nations and large portions of the global population about a problem that is some time in the future, is not fully visible, and escalating rapidly?

This has been successfully rendered redundant, no thanks to human prescience.

What was distant possibilities in the future is happening right now, is very much visible, and is still escalating rapidly.

Regardless of who got our planet to this point, the consequences must be borne by individual nations. An increase in global average temperature of 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees, manifests itself as regional impact – floods in the Indian subcontinent, wildfires in Australia, droughts in the US etc.

The impact and damage vary depending on available resources, internal preparedness, and the erraticism of the weather gods. It’s happening one way or another, and we have always known that. The debate thus far has only been who pays for the rest of the world to prepare. I am of course excluding the debate that climate change naysayers so passionately pursued all these years.

India, for example, has long maintained a stance of ‘polluter pays’ and did not deviate from that even in the light of the latest report. India is also one of the better performers in Climate Change Performance. India is also apparently only likely to meet 50% of its climate targets as per the Paris agreement, as initial trends suggest.

Climate targets and benchmarks, although ‘nationally determined’, were set and accepted by various countries at the behest of external actors. International climate politics is a lot like game theory. Climate negotiations involve self-interested actors engaging in strategic interactions to maximise their individual utility.

Our current climate reality has ensured that the definitions of self-interest and individual utility are no longer the same. It is very much in the interest of nations to tackle climate change or suffer from an increased incidence of adverse climate events, which threatens livelihoods of its citizens, all the way from food security, displacement, economic losses to loss of lives.

Immediate climate action is imperative and cannot hinge on the moral compass or the magnanimity of industrialised nations. You can expect overtones of climate leadership along with undertones of nationalism from the usual suspects. (Did someone say vaccine inequality? No? My bad.) But that shouldn’t take the attention away from domestic climate action.

While it is easier said than done, especially in the wake of the social devastation of the pandemic on the developing world and the stretched fiscal situations of most economies, it is important to suspend this Sisyphusian pursuit of seeking financing from the industrialised nations as the primary means of climate action. I personally believe they should do a lot more and a heck lot sooner, but I also understand it is not straightforward.

That has long held back a less than optimal, yet practical representation of available climate funding and could potentially open new approaches to financing climate action, including domestic sources. Harsh reality, but what other choice exists?

For what we can do as individuals, I take inspiration from, in my personal opinion, one of the few renaissance men walking this world today, Wendell Berry

For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. A better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work.

Thinking Big has led us to the two biggest and cheapest political dodges of our time: plan-making and law-making. The lotus-eaters of this era are in Washington, D.C., Thinking Big.

Somebody perceives a problem, and somebody in the government comes up with a plan or a law. The result, mostly, has been the persistence of the problem, and the enlargement and enrichment of the government.

But the discipline of thought is not generalization; it is detail, and it is personal behavior.

While the government is “studying” and funding and organizing its Big Thought, nothing is being done. But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem.

Think Little

You might not agree with everything Wendell Berry says, but it is hard not to admire his fortitude to exercise private virtue when the question is about ensuring public justice.

Here is a short 7.5 minute explainer video about this latest report that tell us everything that we need to know about it, sans the doomsday overture.

Please watch this and read less about the report on mainstream media. Please.

3 thoughts on “That Climate Change Report That You Might Have Possibly Read?

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