As a verdict on humanity’s climate crimes, the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change couldn’t be clearer: guilty as hell.
Repeatedly ignored warnings from scientists over the past decades have come true. Humanity, through its actions, or inaction, has unequivocally warmed the planet. Nowhere on Earth does rising temperatures, worst floods, hottest wildfires, or most devastating droughts escape.
The future looks worse. “If we don’t stop our emissions soon, our future climate could turn into a kind of hell on Earth,” says Professor Tim Palmer of the University of Oxford.
This would be the sentence for these climate crimes, but it has not yet been handed down. The world can avoid the harshest punishment, but only fairly. Immediate repentance is required for the delays that have brought the world to the brink in the form of immediate and profound emissions cuts.
The key aspect of the IPCC report is that the 42-page summary is agreed, line by line, by every government on the planet, and scientists veto any politically expedient but unscientific proposal.
As a result, governments that continue to fail to take action now have to go into hiding: the crystal-clear report has ruined all their alibis. “Too many ‘net zero’ climate plans have been used to greenwash pollution and normalcy,” says Teresa Anderson of ActionAid International.
The report exposes such plans with its stark statement that immediate action is the only way to avoid increasing impacts, including today’s wildfires in California, Greece and Turkey, floods in Germany, China and England and the heat waves in Canada and Siberia are just a preview. As Greta Thunberg says, the climate crisis must be treated as a crisis.
The action required is well known and the IPCC report should be the spur for it to be carried out, says António Guterres, UN Secretary General: “This report should sound like a death sentence for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. By combining forces now, we can avoid a climate catastrophe. But, as the report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. “
Every choice that is made now matters. Helen Clarkson, CEO of the Climate Group, which represents 220 regional governments and 300 multinational companies, covering 1.75 billion people and 50% of the global economy, says: “Every decision, every investment, every goal, it must have the climate at its core. “
The seriousness of the situation exposed in the report makes the bluster about the supposed costs of climate action disappear. In any case, not acting will cost much more. “It is suicidal and economically irrational to keep procrastinating,” says Professor Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University of Bangladesh.
For those governments and companies that still chose inaction, the IPCC report could well end up being used as key evidence against them in royal courts. “We will take this report with us to court,” says Greenpeace’s Kaisa Kosonen.
“By strengthening the scientific evidence between human emissions and extreme weather, the IPCC has provided powerful new means to hold the fossil fuel industry and governments directly responsible for the climate emergency,” he says. “One only needs to look at our recent court victory against Shell to realize how powerful the science of the IPCC can be.”
Hope remains, fair. Christiana Figueres, who was the UN’s climate chief when the Paris agreement was sealed in 2015, says: “Everything we need to avoid the exponential impacts of climate change is doable. But it depends on the solutions moving exponentially faster than the impacts. “
The IPCC report means that all the evidence that will ever be needed is now in place. “The continued hesitancy to address climate change is no longer about a lack of scientific evidence, but directly related to a lack of political will,” says Kristina Dahl of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
That means political leaders are now in the dock and the vital UN Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November may be the last hearing where they can avoid the judgment of history.