Someone Leaked The IPCC’s Next Assessment Report. Here Are the Experts’ Reactions
Concern has been expressed over a draft report from the world’s main climate change authority that was leaked to a worldwide news agency – but the catastrophic warnings detailed in the study should come as no surprise, experts say.
Agence France-Presse (AFP), a global news organization headquartered in Paris, got a draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
According to reports, the draft describes how climate change will “fundamentally reshape life on Earth in coming decades, even if humans can tame planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions” through projections on food supplies, water scarcity, extinction rates, migration, infectious diseases, and extreme weather events.
When asked about the leak, David Schlosberg, a professor of Environmental Politics at the University of Sydney in Australia, stated that “the forthcoming IPCC report is not surprising for anyone paying attention to the climate science,”
“There is a well-known need for much more investment in substantive and inclusive adaptation planning to address existing community threats from heat, fire, and sea level rise,” Schlosberg added.
“The more we ignore what’s coming, the worse the impacts will be,” he continued.
However, in typical scientific tradition, the authors of the report are eager to point out that this is not the final word.
“It is a very preliminary and partial version of a volume of the report, which dates from November 2020,” said François Gemenne, one of the paper’s principal authors and a researcher at the University of Liège in Belgium who studies environmental migration and displacement.
“This version does not take into account the thousands of comments received, nor especially the sections that are being written at the moment,” Gemenne stated in another tweet.
While acknowledging that the research is a work in progress, it delivers a strong warning about the direction we are rapidly moving in – approaching climate system tipping points.
Tipping points are climate thresholds that, if crossed, can precipitate and magnify cascade effects across the globe, with one ecosystem failing after another.
For example, irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which contains enough ice to raise global sea levels seven metres, or dieback of the Amazon rainforest, which would release unfathomable amounts of CO2 into an already overburdened system.
Warnings concerning tipping points are not new; for more than a decade, climate experts have been sounding the alarm that our world is speeding near critical thresholds.
In 2019, for example, a group of experts at the University of Exeter led by climate systems researcher Tim Lenton identified nine active tipping points that are “too risky to bet against”
According to AFP, the leaked analysis increases that number to at least a dozen possible tipping points beyond which the world’s ecosystems would begin to collapse.
#EXCLUSIVE Climate change would radically alter life on Earth in the next decades, even if humanity manage to rein in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, according to a major draft report obtained by @AFP from the United Nations’ climate science advisors. https://t.co/Q4ytmReVky https://t.co/gry8gRPjsF pic.twitter.com/gry8gRPjsF
— AFP (@AFP) June 23, 2021
With the draft report – which will serve as the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report – the hundreds of authors appear to be preparing to issue some of their most strident warnings to date.
“Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” the document apparently states. “Humans cannot.”
Although the precise wording of the final report is very certain to change, what we can understand for now is that the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report could serve as a barometer of how far climate research has advanced since the IPCC’s first report in 1990.
Historically, reports have tended to use careful language that erred on the conservative side, skirting the issue of climate model uncertainty and projections.
Tipping points have proven particularly difficult to measure in terms of their timing and severity, yet climate estimates are becoming increasingly sensitive.
“The exact timing of tipping points and the links between them is not well understood by scientists, so they have been under-reported in past IPCC assessments,” Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at University College London, told The Guardian.
“The blunter language from the IPCC this time is welcome, as people need to know what is at stake if society does not take action to immediately slash carbon emissions.”
Other experts, such as Paul Read of Monash University in Melbourne, have claimed that the evidence necessary to inspire climate action is already in place.
Climate models “have long suggested a bleak future by 2080 and 2100 that exceeds the safe limit for climate change [1.5°C of warming] set by the Paris Agreement – by doubling it,” said Read, a psychologist who specializes in global sustainability, natural disasters, and intergenerational equity.
Susan Park, a University of Sydney professor of global governance, had a similar message.
“The report reinforces our urgent need to act now” she said, adding that it “highlights the scientific research done globally on how climate change is fundamentally altering the life systems of our planet, with increasingly dire consequences for humanity”
While other scientists declined to comment on the draft report out of respect for the ongoing study and review process, they emphasized the dire repercussions of inaction.
“In general, climate tipping points are extremely concerning,” said Helen McGregor, a paleoclimatologist at Australia’s University of Wollongong.
“The conclusion here is that increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere does indeed have terrible and costly implications. It is in everyone’s best interests to begin reducing emissions as soon as possible.”
In a statement, the IPCC stated that it does not comment on the substance of draft reports while work is ongoing. Additionally, it stated that the final report is expected to be approved in February 2022.
Thus, perhaps the issue we should be asking is what can be done in the interim?
According to scientists, terrible tipping moments can be averted – if we act quickly.
According to Tim Lenton and his colleagues in 2019: “Our planet’s stability and resilience are in jeopardy. This must be reflected in international action, not just words.”