Actions taken to tackle climate change over the next few years “are probably the most important in our history”, according to a new assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released in Korea today.
Declaring that “every bit of warming matters” for planetary and human health, the IPCC says that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius rather than 2.0 degrees would provide clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems.
But to do so, it says, would “require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”, with the world currently on a trajectory of 3 to 4° C rises.
“Climate change is shaping the future of our civilisation,” IPCC Working Group II chair Hans-Otto Portner told a media conference in Incheon, following the release of the report prepared in response to an invitation from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when it adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015.
It will be a key scientific input into the Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland in December, when governments review the Paris Agreement which aimed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels and seek to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
“If action is not taken it will take the planet into an unprecedented climate future compared to what has happened in all of human evolutionary history,” Portner said.
“So the scale of the changes that we are experience in the climate system is unprecedented (and) the scale of the changes humans would have to implement to keep climate change under control is unprecedented, so it’s challenge for human civilisation and this report is therefore a milestone in conveying that message to human society.”
The report comes as the the Federal Environment Department’s quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory showed – which, as Dr Lesley Russell reported, the Federal Government sat on for seven weeks – that, in the first three months of 2018, Australia had the highest levels of carbon pollution since 2011.
It should also, as Peter Sainsbury, a past president of the Public Health Association of Australia, says in this earlier report at Croakey put pressure on the Australian Government although there were no signs today that it would.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison – under fire, as the Guardian reported for having recently abandoned a policy to cut emissions from electricity – said his government would “look at the report carefully” but made the point Australia was responsible for a little more than 1% of global emissions (overlooking that we have the second highest emissions per capita).
Watch the one-hour IPCC media conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12S3dKrxj7c
And here’s a brief video summary of its main findings from the Australian Academy of Scientists
“The greater the warming, the greater the risks to health”
Croakey readers may be interested to read this synthesis of the health content of the IPCC report compiled by the Climate Tracker journalism project, which notes that information on the health implications of restricting global warming are scattered throughout the comprehensive IPCC report.
Some of the key health messages are outlined in a forward co-written by Kristie Ebi a Lead Author of the IPCC report:
- The greater the warming, the greater the risks to health overall, which they say mounts “a strong public health case for limiting warming to the greatest extent possible”.
- There can be important health gains from the actions that will be necessary to limit warming, particularly on air pollution and urban design and transport policies that facilitate walking and cycling.
- The longer it takes to reduce emissions, the greater the adaptation needed to protect population health and no matter the extent of mitigation, there will be residual risks for health that health systems will need to manage.
- Not every mitigation actions is beneficial for health. For example, increasing the use of biofuels could for example affect the availability of land for agriculture, thus affecting food security.
“This highlights the importance of ensuring health professionals are engaged in decisions regarding specific mitigation actions to ensure that accompanying policies and measures are implemented to protect and promote population health when such actions are necessary.”
Australia’s Climate and Health Alliance also declared the IPCC report “a public health warning” and called on the federal government urgently develop a national climate and health policy.
CAHA Vice President Dr Rebecca Patrick said:
“The world’s leading climate scientists are again telling us predicted rises in land and sea temperatures from global warming present a serious danger to the health and safety.
“We cannot delay halting the use of fossil fuels any longer with strong policy needed to help Australia transition away from fossil fuels and protect human health from the damaging effects of climate change.”
OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council says the report points to still serious health consequences at 1.5°C, but “the longer we delay acting, the harder it will be to protect health.” In a statement, it says:
“The good news is that tackling climate change presents huge opportunities to improve health and create a fairer society. Energy efficient homes can be warmer, drier and more affordable; low carbon transport can make it easy to be more active and clear the air; and shifting towards a plant-based food system can reduce cancer and address our freshwater crisis.
“Challenge for human civilisation”
The report’s full name is Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.
The IPCC, United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change, said it framed its report in context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the goals to eradicate poverty.
The result paints a “far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought” and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent”, according to the New York Times, which says it describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.
We will update this post with more responses as they come