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IPCC report green is the new black

The latest IPCC report on Mitigation is out. We take a critical look. (think: colonialism & capitalism)

Eclipsed by the war in Ukraine, rising fuel prices, and of course the insane gatekeeping and bureaucratic IPCC release process, most major media have barely reported on, let alone analysed, the report since its release last week. Green Is The New Black pays close attention to key takeaways on mitigation and breaks down the clunky technical text to its core element: “now or never” 

Welcome back for another summary of the 145-page technical summary of a ~3,000-page report. This is written for everyone, especially people who do not spend their days reading climate reports or scouring archives. We covered the last two working group updates too—if you haven’t checked them out, start here and go back to them if/when you need more context.

No substitute for direct citizen climate action

Three days after the release of the “now or never” report, Assaad Razzouk posted a social media update on how he hasn’t seen a single article (in any major media channels) acknowledging the report. It’s as if the hard work of 632 authors, contributing authors and their 18,000 cited references never existed.

The irony of this report’s findings being eclipsed by a war that is fueled by the same ills that burn the planet does not escape us. Even worse, the IPCC ‘Summary For Policy Makers’ has been heavily watered down from the full technical report. In fact, a group of scientists leaked the report a day before its official release. They said they were fearing political interventions and technocratic fixes (which did happen, as one would expect). Despite all the lobbying and gatekeeping, lots of welcome changes and news still came through. For the first time, we’re seeing evidence of real, sustained decreases in greenhouse gas emissions from some countries. But take a deep breath because…

Average annual greenhouse gas emissions over the last 10 years were the *highest in human history*

We are not on track to limit warming to less than 1.5 degrees. Instead, we are on track for global warming between 2.2 and 3.5 degrees celsius. Put another way, without rapid, deep emissions cuts across all sectors and regions, 1.5 degrees is out of reach. As IPCC lead author @SarahLynnBurch highlights in her informative thread, the report tells us that individual action is not enough. Do we know what we need to do to make those cuts? Absolutely.

Options now exist across all sectors and regions that can cut our emissions by at least half by 2030 (which is what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change). Coal has to go. Coal without carbon capture and storage has to go down by 76% by 2030. That’s… really fast. We would also need to prematurely, that is, before the end of their designed lifespan, shut down oil gas infrastructure by 2050 (read… stop building new stuff!)

What do we need? Systemic change

The next few years are absolutely critical. Individual choice alone makes only modest contributions to GHG reductions. We’re not on track to 1.5 degrees but we also already have the tools we need to create healthy, just, resilient, low carbon communities. The IPCC WG3 report is so much noticeably better than previous ones: The IPCC featured more social scientists, scientists of colour, and women scientists than previous reports, too. As Yessenia Funes from Atmos notes, “Involving researchers who deal with more history and society rather than models and data goes a long way.” They’re including the best social science when it comes to demand and mitigation. This leads to better, more efficient, smarter and more beneficial climate policies.

The stated goal is that greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025, and can be nearly halved this decade, to give the world a chance of limiting future heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. “In every sector, there are options available that can halve emissions by 2030 and keep open the option of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.” – Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, vice-chair of WGIII

On net-zeo targets and technofixes

Though many countries have announced net-zero targets around 2050, how fast we get there is also very important. According to climate analyst Ketan Joshi, If we refuse to update our collectively awful 2030 targets, then we need to reduce emissions 70% faster after 2020 compared to if we start acting now. That is: we would need to replicate COVID19 emissions drop rate after 2030, if we delay action until 2030!

Lots are promising good things for 2050, but no one is really doing enough before 2030. That is a massive problem and points to a systemic problem where promises are more important than actions. Here’s the thing: we should be aggressively working to make the situation such that we do not need to rely on carbon removal as much as our current fail-plans suggest we’ll need to. Our current policies globally put us on a pathway to definitely breaching 1.5C and probably breaching 2C.

Fossil fuel influence, even within the IPCC

The fossil-fuel industry has been part of IPCC since its inception. In a tweet, investigate journalist Amy Westervelt wrote, “Sorry but I must note that it seems incredibly problematic that the Chair of the IPCC was previously Exxon’s economist, the Coordinating Lead Author of the cross-sector chapter is a senior staffer of Saudi Aramco, and the reviewed for the energy chapter works for Exxon.”

And it’s not just the IPCC. Oil companies have been involved with governments in the entire international effort on climate change since it began in the late 1980s. These messages are subject to intense wrangling by both scientists and governments. Under the IPCC methods, all governments have the right to make changes to the final summary. And some are exercising those rights by toning down findings and vetoing some of the strongest statements. (Saudi Arabia, India, China and a few other countries have sought to make changes that would weaken the final warnings.)

What’s up with the highly contentious Carbon Capture?

As reported by @ChloeFarand, the US pushed to delete a graphic differentiating developed and developing countries. An entire graphic was removed from the Summary For Policymakers (SPM) because it was illustrating contributing emissions. This is all part of a broader political agenda, pushed by the US especially, to treat developed and developing countries the same despite their very different contributions to the climate crisis and very different development levels and circumstances.

This summary also includes schemes and technofixes – that have been repeatedly rejected by activists and experts for potential harm to local communities. It has a lot of cheerleading for Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS), a false solution that’s put on the same level as renewables. There are warnings that technofixes and CCS may not work and come with dangers to ecosystems and communities. This is scientific caution (given that CCS at scale simply does not exist) tempered by a political agenda. Still, that all this is happening in the discussions over an ostensibly scientific report is particularly maddening.

Much of this has been watered down/edited by the Global North

The Working Group III report/Summary for Policymakers highlights equity and the need for finance to support action in developing countries. But US and developed countries watered down a lot in their ongoing attempts to shift responsibility to the Global South.

Several paragraphs were subject to extended negotiations over the weekend before release, with developed countries trying to water them down and remove references to equity, climate justice, the $100 billion goals, and differentiation between responsibilities of developed vs developing countries.

This is despite the first-ever mention of “colonialism” in an IPCC report. The role of colonialism in creating the climate crisis has been a part of the climate justice movement’s narrative for decades. But we can’t help but note how hypocritical (and placating, even) it is to mention colonialism without looking it in the eye.

Climate scientists and peers who are deconstructing this report have more to say but I’ll pause for a moment and just say the next few years are absolutely critical. Lots of welcome changes came through in this report, such as the need for equity and the effects of colonialism — topics that don’t get much mention in local climate change discourse. What we now need is a regenerative response. Starting with recognition of the report (make noise so that mainstream media will pick this up too!) What does a non-capitalist response to climate breakdown look like? How can we embody this in our movements? There is a string of hope, let’s hold on to it. 


FEATURED IMAGE: via Pexels | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: person in a black suit standing on a brown rock formation