COP26: The five key messages from international report on climate change catastrophe

If anybody still had any doubts, yes, climate change is caused by humans; yes, there is a direct link between extreme weather and a warming world; and yes, floods and wildfires will get worse unless we take drastic action to rapidly curb emissions. The sixth and latest report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a robust read. The 195 governments that have pored over every word of this scientific report are in no doubt about the seriousness of the situation confronting the world.

Immediate, rapid and massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are necessary if the worst impacts of climate change are to be averted.

Five key messages from the report are:

  1. It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land, with widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere since industrial times;

  2. The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and its present state are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years;

  3. Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, with evidence of increasing heatwaves, heavy rainfall, droughts and tropical cyclones;

  4. Global surface temperature will continue to rise under all emissions scenarios considered, with warming going beyond 1.5C and 2C during this century unless deep reductions in emissions are made in the next few years;

  5. Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially ocean acidification, melting ice sheets and sea level rise.

Key priority areas of climate action include adaptation and resilience, energy transitions, nature, clean transport, and finance.

The Working Group I report is the first instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, which will be completed in 2022. It is the first since 2013, representing eight years of work by the world’s leading climate scientists. Originally scheduled for release in April, the report was delayed for several months by the COVID-19 pandemic as work in the scientific community shifted online.

It is a view shared by South Africa Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, who says if COP26 is to be successful, developing countries need support from developed countries in the form of finance, technology and capacity building. South Africa’s suggested global goal on adaptation sees focus being placed on “the most vulnerable people and communities; their health and well-being; food and water security; infrastructure and the built environment; and ecosystems and ecosystem services, particularly in Africa, Small Island states and Least Developed Countries”.

The COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference, hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, will take place from 31 October to 12 November 2021 in the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow. It is expected to be the most important meeting on climate change since the Paris agreement was drawn up in 2015 and there are huge expectations that it will deliver significant progress in the battle against rising temperatures.

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