IPCC warns of irreversible global warming changes

The IPCC report’s recommendation to policymakers? To speed up. Make sure your business can keep pace with resulting regulations.

by Octavio Sambiase

In March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Synthesis Report for Climate Change 2023. While not offering up any new insights, the report does provide an overview of updated scientific evidence worthy of attention. In this article well break down the contents of the IPCC Synthesis Report into a simple summary. 

What’s included in the IPCC Synthesis Report for Climate Change 2023?

The report includes a summary version for policymakers and a longer version that includes additional graphics, data, and a deeper analysis of the found evidence. For most of their content, the reports are not innovative regarding climate change. The reports regularly refer to the connection between human activities, global warming, and climate change — including manufacturing, chemical, agriculture, fishing, and the oil and gas industries. 

They also remark that the efforts made so far have not been enough to reverse or stop these ongoing trends. The IPCC explains that while some direct measures have successfully helped to slow down the emission increase, net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased in all major sectors since 2010. In this sense, CO2 emission reduction through better technologies has been overtaken by the development of activities in sectors such as industrial, energy and construction. 

The reports also highlight: 

  • The uneven global distribution of measures 
  • The segmented approach toward different problems 
  • Badly implemented mitigation measures, which are either not proper for their geographic or social context, or have a countereffect 

Awash with insightful global warming facts and information

Despite not exposing brand new information, the reports are rich in worthy facts. One that stood out gives updated figures regarding sea levels. 

Rising sea levels have been generally acknowledged since the beginning of last century. However, the rate at which it’s increasing has doubled in the last decade. Between 1971 and 2006, sea level rise was recorded at an average rate of 1.9 millimeters per year (mm/y). From 2006 to 2018, that has increased to an average of 3.7mm/y. This becomes more alarming when we see that between 1901 and 1971, the rate was only 1.3 mm/y annually. 

The IPCC concludes that this change is irreversible. Even in the most optimistic scenario — where we would take all the necessary measures to meet the goal of 1.5 Degrees Celsius (°C) by 2050 — sea levels would still increase. Such increases will result in a significant loss of Artic and Antarctic ice, more flooding events, and increasingly regular ocean heatwaves. The subsequent repercussions are almost incalculable, including compromised livelihood in different islands and a greater loss of biodiversity (such as the beautiful coral reefs). 

On a positive note, however, immediate drastic action may reduce GHG emissions to limit sea level rise acceleration. In other words, if we meet the goal of 1.5°C by 2050, the sea level is likely to rise between 2 and 3 meters. Conversely, a global warming of 2°C could result in up to 6 meters of sea level rise — a significant difference. 

A bit of optimism for global warming and GHG reduction

Measures and plans have been implemented worldwide and across various sectors, the reports also highlight. For instance, greening, reforesting, and the restoration of wetlands have proved their efficiency in reducing flood risks and urban heat. In addition, many sustainable solutions are becoming more cost-effective every day, and the public generally supports them. Governments and businesses are adopting initiatives to implement renewable energy (primarily solar and wind energies), electrify urban systems, and construct greener and more energy-efficient infrastructures. 

Nonetheless, the reports remark that the responses have been fragmented, not comprehensive (meaning sector-focused), and unequally distributed worldwide. Effective GHG reduction measures need to overcome limited resources, the need for more private and public engagement, and financial restrictions — hurdles that can only be surmounted with a concerted, cohesive effort.  

Sustainable finance has certainly been — and will remain — a crucial player. According to the IPCC, economic instruments helped to reduce emissions through carbon tax or emission trading systems. In this sense, different economic instruments covered approximately 20% of the global GHG emissions.  

Can we still keep global warming below 1.5°C?

The IPCC forecasts that from 2021 to 2040 global warming will continue to increase, mainly due to CO2 emissions. Even in the most optimistic scenario, with immediate measures to mitigate climate change and reduce emissions, the IPCC foresees that global warming will reach the threshold of 1.5°C before 2050. In addition, if this decade (2020 to 2030) continues with the same levels of CO2 emissions as in 2019, we are more likely to reach the 2°C threshold by 2050. 

On the positive side, the IPCC highlights that more than 100 countries have “adopted, announced, or are discussing” carbon neutrality or zero GHG, which accounts for at least two thirds of global emissions. Moreover, if measures are taken now, global warming can be reduced below 1.5°C during the second half of the 21st century. The sooner we limit emissions sufficiently, the sooner we can bring global warming close to 1.5°C. The more we reduce our GHG impact, the faster we can minimize the loss of biodiversity and changes in the ecosystems. 

The IPCC identifies three main areas that pose challenges for climate adaptation: 

  • The implementation of new technology 
  • Economic barriers 
  • Behavior changes adopted by the general population 

Adopting new and more efficient technologies is expensive and is becoming a challenge, especially in developing regions. 

What are the repercussions of a global temperature increase of 1.5°C?

The IPCC specifies the following main consequences of a global warming of 1.5°C, among others: 

–       Biodiversity loss 

–       Hot extremes and dangerous heat-humidity conditions 

–       Frequent extreme rainfall, associated with flooding in many regions 

–       Marine heatwaves 

–       Dryland water scarcity  

–       Continued sea level rise 

Regulatory compliance is the way forward

Put simply, the IPCC’s recommendation to policymakers is to speed up. 

The IPCC’s projected scenarios show that the sooner more measures are taken, the better we will adapt and control the damage caused by global warming. In this context, we are facing more regulations every day. In the EU, we are witnessing the discussion of Fit for 55, which intends to reduce 55% of net GHG emissions by 2030, setting a smooth way to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Regulations such as these will see companies have to adapt to a more challenging context in which chemical restrictions will increase. For instance, the PFAS restriction proposal discussed earlier this year. Nature protection will also play a more significant role — the EU Biodiversity Strategy proposes that at least 30% of seas and lands must be protected by 2030. And sustainability reporting is becoming mandatory.  

Given this context, compliance becomes of utmost relevance for all economic actors. Implementing and periodically checking on compliance intelligence tools doesn’t magically solve the problem, but it helps companies to spot their weaknesses, be better prepared, and plan their business adaptation for the coming years.  

The long and short of it is that global temperatures are rising and will continue to rise. The goal of keeping global warming limited to 1.5°C is not likely to be achieved, and even if it is, we’ll still face several consequences related to climate change. Staying on top of current regulatory requirements and being ready for rapid upcoming changes is the only way to remain compliant, prepare for the future, and contribute to growing global efforts. 

At Enhesa we offer a rich menu of regulation and compliance tools that will help companies keep track of changes in over 300 jurisdictions and assess their compliance. Whether you want to give your operations a compliance health-check, stay up-to-date with the latest developments, or go beyond current regulations, our flexible, customizable solutions can help.  

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