In the same week that Europe’s hottest temperature ever (48.8°C) was recorded, and torrential rain and thunderstorms brought flooding and travel disruption to parts of the UK, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered the first part of its sixth assessment report on the impacts of global warming. 

Some of the key takeaways from the report include:

  • there is an unequivocal link between human activities and global warming, with humans estimated to have caused a c.1.1°C increase in global temperatures measured against pre-industrial levels;
  • the link between human activities and climate change is observable through the many weather and climate extremes that are occurring in every region around the world. These include heatwaves, unseasonable rainstorms, and droughts. If climate change continues unabated, the frequency and intensity of these events will increase significantly;
  • the scale of the recent changes is also unprecedented, with each of the last four decades being warmer than the last, and all of them being warmer than any other decade in the industrial era;
  • it is expected that global temperatures will continue to rise by 2050 under all emissions scenarios considered. Without deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse emissions in the coming decades, global warming will exceed the “acceptable” range of 1.5°C to 2°C. Simply meeting the voluntary pledges of the Paris Agreement is no longer enough, and will put the world on course for a potential increase in global temperatures of 3°C by 2100; and
  • in order to limit future climate change, and prevent events previously attributed as “low-likelihood” outcomes (e.g. ice sheet collapse, more extreme weather events, and abrupt ocean circulation changes), further limitations are required to cumulative CO2 emissions to reach net zero against pre-industrial levels, along with strong reductions in emissions of other greenhouse gases, including methane.

This “code red for humanity” clearly indicates that (i) the world around us is warming up at an unprecedented rate, and (ii) if we do not act now to try to bring our emissions of CO2 and greenhouse gases under control, then we will not meet our net zero ambitions for 2050.

The solutions and potential mitigation measures for achieving decarbonisation are well-known – investment and deployment of renewable and clean technologies at an unprecedented scale and significant reductions in dependency on fossil fuels, both of which will require increased innovation on both new technologies and efficiencies of existing solutions. However, what is now required is the adoption and delivery of these policies by all governments in a manner that goes beyond the Paris Agreement. In the past year, the UK government has unveiled some ambitious targets and policies to reach net zero by 2050. Given the stark warning from the IPCC report that more needs to be done, the world will watch expectantly on what tangible actions are agreed when the UK government hosts the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021.