The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is considered the most authoritative source on climate change. For more than 30 years, the IPCC has published comprehensive assessments of climate change prepared by global teams of scientists who have informed international climate negotiations and national strategies and raised public awareness.
Earlier this year the IPCC met in Switzerland to finalise the ‘Sixth Assessment Synthesis Report’–often referred to as the AR6 Synthesis Report. This report brings together the work of hundreds of scientists and experts who have assessed thousands of scientific papers in recent years to contribute their findings and give the world a status update on human-induced climate change and its impacts.
The Sixth Assessment Report cycle, which began in 2017, includes a package of eight reports penned over the past five years and designed to incorporate the latest technological, economic and social developments that influence the response to climate change. The timing of the AR6 Synthesis Report was coordinated with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 2023 Global Stocktake – the first time the global response to climate change will be assessed. The AR6 Synthesis Report is a critical input to Global Stocktake deliberations, which will culminate at COP28 in the UAE later this year. The following sections share and describe Mitiga’s three key takeaways for policymakers.
Limiting warming to 1.5°C or even 2°C depends on climate action in this decade.
In its Summary for Policymakers, the AR6 states: “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all (very high confidence).” Global warming beyond 1.5°C increases the likelihood of irreversible impacts, such as loss of critical ecosystems that include forests and coral reefs. Warming beyond 1.5°C would also accelerate the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets.
These ice sheets keep the global climate cooler by acting as large reflective surfaces for heat coming from the sun – up to 90% of the solar radiation is reflected into space. They are drivers in global ocean circulation, providing cold dense freshwater that sinks and flows along our deep ocean basins, consequently driving warm surface currents, crucial for regulating local climates.
Ice sheets act as a frozen cap on vast stores of permafrost, containing 1.5 trillion metric tonnes of stored CO2 in the Northern Hemisphere alone. Currently we have a global technological capability to remove C02 from the atmosphere at a rate of only 10,000 metric tonnes per year (the equivalent of the annual emissions from about 1,700 cars). Finally, ice sheets store water that would otherwise be in the ocean. Melting polar ice caps could raise global sea levels drastically and force Small Island State populations and coastal communities to relocate, resulting in the loss of not only their homes and livelihoods but also their cultures. Disrupting, reducing or losing the polar climate altogether would have severe consequences for everyone on Earth.
With every additional increment of warming, extreme climate and weather events are likely to grow more frequent and intense, exacerbating food and water insecurity and increasing the potential for conflict.
The prospect of these “compounding and cascading risks”, as the IPCC calls them, should be top of mind for every policymaker. And yet, with the policies implemented today, the world is on track to reach 3.2°C of warming by 2100. In modelled pathways to 1.5°C, global emissions peak in the 2020s. The only way to stabilise the climate and not exceed 1.5°C of warming is to achieve deep emissions reduction in this decade.
Climate mitigation and climate adaptation should factor into every development decision.
Climate mitigation and adaptation solutions are available today—many at a low cost—and can be rapidly deployed to accelerate sustainable development. The AR6 considers the synergies of various climate adaptation solutions with climate mitigation to demonstrate the need for a more integrated view of climate and sustainable development options. For example, adaptation measures such as agroforestry to improve soil quality, increase vegetation or shelter crops from climate hazards also contribute to climate mitigation by storing and sequestering carbon. Agroforestry can also improve food security and protect livelihoods in globally applicable ways. Other interventions such as green infrastructure with ecosystem services (e.g., water purification, biodiversity protection and air quality) can also contribute to climate mitigation, but their implementation may depend on economic, institutional, and technological factors or other dimensions of feasibility.
With the right policies and partners specific to local contexts, climate solutions that integrate mitigation, adaptation, and protection of vital nature can be prioritised to achieve climate and sustainable development goals. For example, mangroves could be preserved along coastlines where they grow to help defend against storm surge, tsunami and sea-level rise. The soils they grow in are very effective carbon sinks that can sequester great amounts of carbon, according to UNESCO.
Policymakers must work domestically and internationally to scale up global climate finance for mitigation and adaptation.
Current global climate finance flows are woefully insufficient to meet mitigation and adaptation targets. Near-term action is necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C or even 2.0°C, and this requires significant, upfront investments in adaptation and mitigation.
Annual global climate finance flows stand at USD 630 billion–far short of the estimated USD 3 to 6 trillion needed annually to meet the temperature and adaptation goals of the Paris Agreement. Moreover, only a small fraction of current financial flows is going to emerging and developing countries. To achieve climate targets, climate finance to developing countries must increase between four- and eightfold to achieve climate targets by 2030. Governments of developed countries have not yet mobilised USD 100 billions of climate finance for developing countries annually, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement. At the same time, governments of developing countries can create policy-enabling environments for global finance.
This includes aligning public investments with low-carbon economic growth, such as technology innovation, and coordinating policies at national and subnational levels to signal clear and stable policy commitment. Climate disclosure policies can simultaneously enable financial actors—from global investors to central banks and financial regulators—to better price climate risks, which also facilitates the redirection of capital toward sustainable investments.
A Critical Juncture in Global Climate Policy
The AR6 reinforces how critical the actions in this decade are in realising global climate goals. Deep emissions reductions at the country level cannot wait, if global leaders aim to keep warming to 1.5°C within reach. At the same time, investments in climate adaptation must be equally prioritised to protect people and critical infrastructure from the physical risks to be expected based on cumulative emissions thus far.
These investments will continue to gain in importance if warming targets are not met. Climate Intelligence offers governments, financial markets, industries and communities the insights into mitigation and adaptation risk synergies they need to support targeted climate solutions at speed and scale. Three years into this critical decade, with the latest and clearest climate science in hand, the Global Stocktake at COP28 could be the impetus for bolder action from policymakers in partnership with global finance and civil society.