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What’s going on in the world?

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In brief: There’s a lot of noise around climate change. The United Nations’ Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) provides the most comprehensive, best available scientific assessment of climate change. Here are the basics.

1. Human-driven climate change is confirmed.
Human activities, mainly through emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), have unequivocally caused global warming, with the global surface temperature reaching 1.1°C above 1850-1900 levels in 2011-2020. This is largely due to the unsustainable way we consume and produce goods and use energy and land.


2. If we continue business as usual, we are likely to reach 1.5 °C by 2030.
To prevent the worsening and potentially irreversible effects of climate change, 195 parties signed the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015 and pledged that the world’s average temperature should not exceed that of 1850-1900 levels by more than 1.5 °C.

3. The burning of fossil fuels is the number one cause of the climate crisis.
Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) releases large amounts of GHG into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for the largest percentage of GHG emissions. If we want to keep the Earth’s temperature below the 1.5 °C limit, we can only release about 510 billion tons of CO2 into the air before we have to stop completely around the early 2050s.
However, the emissions expected from the fossil fuel infrastructure that’s already in place or planned, could go beyond this limit by another 340 billion tons, reaching a total of 850 billion tons of CO2.

What is the AR6?
The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), released on 20 March 2023, provides the most comprehensive scientific assessment of climate change. The report was compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of the United Nations. Four South Africans were part of the IPCC team:

4. This is the decisive decade to change this around.
If we act now, and reduce GHG emissions, we can limit global warming to 1.5 °C. GHG emissions will peak immediately and before 2025 at the latest, and then drop rapidly, declining by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035, relative to 2019 levels.

5. We must stop emitting and remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Rapid decarbonization won’t be enough to achieve global climate goals. Carbon removal is also essential to limit a global temperature rise to
1.5 °C. There are natural solutions, such as sequestering and storing carbon in trees and soil, as well as innovative technologies that pull carbon dioxide directly from the air.

6. There is enough global capital to rapidly reduce GHG emissions.
Although there is sufficient global capital, tracked climate finance falls short of closing the gap between the money available and the money needed to achieve long-term climate goals. This is while finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate action.
Various barriers, within and outside the financial sector, are contributing to this gap. Internally short-term thinking, lack of information, and preference for local investment inhibit the flow of capital while external barriers such as the absence of proper pricing for environmental impacts, and regulatory frameworks that encourage climate-friendly investments remain obstacles. Developing countries face additional challenges, such as limited institutional capacity.
Another worrying factor is that, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), almost 50% of the public funding is still given in the form of loans rather than grants. This can increase the debt burden of poorer nations.

After CO2, methane is the second-largest contributor to climate change. Methane is largely produced by humans (in the energy and agricultural sector) and dissipates quicker than CO2, so its reduction is considered the low-hanging fruit of climate mitigation. Methane reduction is a possible short-term solution while we work on longer-term solutions. Cutting methane emissions by 45% by 2030 could help us limit global warming to 1.5°C.

7. A just response to climate change can benefit all.
Climate change is coupled with much inequality. The lowest emitters often pay the highest price. Households in the top 10% emit upwards of 45% of the world’s GHGs, while the bottom 50% account for 15% at most. Already it is clear that poor communities suffer more from extreme weather.
The solutions could also harm the poor. Retiring coal-fired power plants, for example, may harm local economies and unravel the social fabric of communities.
However, it also offers the opportunity to establish a more equitable world in general. In the words of IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee: “Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, but it will also provide wider benefits.”

8. There are solutions to reduce emissions by at least 43% over the next seven years.
The time to implement a just transition is here. One way of achieving this is by changing social welfare programmes to include adaptation measures such as cash transfers to people in need and public works intervention during and in the aftermath of extreme weather events.
Policymakers should design mitigation strategies that equitably distribute the costs and benefits of reducing GHG emissions. Governments can simultaneously phase out the use of coal, for example, and set up training programmes to upskill people for jobs in clean energy, like wind or solar power.

The Renewables 2022 report finds that renewables are set to account for over 90% of global electricity expansion, overtaking coal to become the largest source of global electricity by early 2025.
According to Envision Racing, in 2025 the cost of making electric cars will reach parity with internal combustion cars in developed countries.

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