PARIS – Diplomats from over 200 nations and leading climate scientists begin a week-long meeting in Switzerland on Monday to distill nearly a decade of published scientific research into a 20-page warning about the existential threat of global warming and what can be done to combat it.

The 20th of March will see the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s synthesis report, which will detail observed and projected changes in the Earth’s climate system, past and future impacts such as debilitating heatwaves, flooding, and rising sea levels, and ways to stop the carbon pollution that is pushing the planet towards an uninhabitable state.

It has been seven years since the Paris Agreement and nine years since the previous IPCC assessment report, according to Kaisa Kosonen, senior policy adviser for Greenpeace Nordic and official observer at IPCC meetings.

Since its establishment in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an intergovernmental organization comprised of hundreds of volunteer scientists, has issued six three-part reports, the most recent in 2021 and 2022.

“Scientists evaluate the performance of governments during these important defining years,” Kosonen remarked.

The report card is unsatisfactory: World greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise despite scientific warnings that catastrophic repercussions will occur sooner and at lower temperatures than previously believed.

Since the late 19th century, the average surface temperature of the Earth has risen by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius, enough to aggravate weather catastrophes on every continent.

Carbon budgets

With the Paris Agreement of 2015, governments agreed to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, if possible, 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In 2018, a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it disturbingly plain that the more ambitious aspirational aim – subsequently accepted by governments and businesses as a hard target – was the best bet for a climate-safe planet.

The IPCC estimates that humanity’s “carbon budget” for keeping below the 1.5 degrees C threshold is less than 300 billion tonnes of CO2, which is only seven times the amount of CO2 emitted annually today.

The summary for policymakers being reviewed in Interlaken will also cover two additional special reports: one on seas and Earth’s frozen zones, and the other on forests and land use.

Dr. Oliver Geden, one of the report’s lead authors and a senior fellow at the German Institute for International Security Affairs, told AFP, “The synthesis report is important because it will be the last IPCC product for some years and one of the major sources of knowledge to be considered in the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement.”

Released ahead of COP28 UN climate negotiations in Dubai in December, the global stocktake will confront governments with the profound inadequacy of their Paris promises to reduce emissions, which would enable global temperatures to climb by 2.8 degrees Celsius beyond the pre-industrial baseline.

The impending threat of lethal heat is one of the IPCC conclusions that might be underlined in the synthesis report.

“More political”

Even in a world with a global average temperature of 1.8 degrees Celsius – an optimistic scenario, according to some experts – half of the humankind might be exposed to life-threatening climatic conditions by 2100 due to the combined effects of high heat and humidity.

Similar gloomy forecasts exist for health, the global food system, and economic output.

Rachel Bezner Kerr, a professor at Cornell University and lead author of the most recent IPCC assessment on climate impacts, stated, “What is at risk affects everyone on the planet: our capacity to eat good, nutritious, and cheap food in the present and future.”

Floods that engulfed a third of Pakistan in 2022 and an ongoing drought in East Africa are both attributable to climate change.

The synthesis report will also reflect the dispute over the most effective method to decarbonize the global economy, with some emphasizing the need to swiftly phase out fossil fuel consumption and reduce consumer demand, and others highlighting the possibility of technology alternatives.

Diplomats in Interlaken reviewing the language line-by-line cannot alter the science in the 10,750 pages of the underlying papers, but they can determine what to include or exclude and may emphasize – or conceal – certain points via words.

The magazine Nature wrote in a recent editorial, “With time, IPCC meetings got increasingly politicized as government representatives – primarily, but not exclusively, from oil-producing states – participated in the scientists’ deliberations.”

Despite this, “the primary IPCC reports have tremendous influence, affecting everything from global climate accords… to the school climate strikes and Fridays of Future,” according to the article. AFP

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