Hoesung Lee, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Geneva, Switzerland
Climate and Nature

Climate change: The IPCC just published its summary of 5 years of reports – here’s what you need to know

Deep dive

The IPCC's latest report on climate change has found that it is "likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century". Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Nathan Cooper
Lead, Partnerships and Engagement Strategy, Climate Action Platform, World Economic Forum
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  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just launched its latest report on the climate crisis.
  • The AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 summarizes five years of reports on global temperature rises, fossil fuel emissions and climate impacts.
  • Here are the main findings of the IPCC report and what needs to happen to limit global warming to below 1.5°C.

The viability of humanity living within planetary boundaries rests on the actions we take in the next seven years. There's no time to lose to keep to the target of limiting the global average temperature to below 1.5°C.

"There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all."

This is the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its latest report, which sets out to summarize the scientific data on global temperature rises, fossil fuel emissions and the impact of the climate crisis.

The AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 finds that, despite progress in policies and legislation around climate mitigation since the previous such report in 2014, it's "likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century".

This is based on the expected levels of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere by 2030, based on all countries' climate targets – known as nationally determined contributions or "NDCs" – announced as of October 2021.

Limiting warming to "well below 2°C", by 2030, as per the Paris Agreement targets, will be hard to achieve, but avoiding 1.5°C is still possible.

The report also lays out the economic imperative for taking action, finding that the "global economic benefit of limiting global warming to 2°C exceeds the cost of mitigation in most of the assessed literature".

Here's what you need to know about the latest IPCC report, its findings and what needs to happen to ensure we stay on track to meet climate goals.

How is this IPCC report different from previous ones?

The Synthesis Report (SYR) is the culmination of a cycle of reports (the Sixth Assessment) that have been published over the past five years.

Since the Fifth Assessment Report cycle, which ended in 2014, there has been an intensified focus around the globe on the climate crisis and efforts to mitigate its impacts, with the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings driving this progress.

This report is the summary of all reports of the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Cycle that were published between 2018 and 2023, which covered, including the landmark Global Warming of 1.5°C, the more recent reports demonstrating how anthropogenic greenhouse gases are causing unprecedented damage, and the report demonstrating that at current levels, many parts of the planet will become unliveable in the next few decades.

Agenda

IPCC report: urgent climate action needed to halve emissions by 2030

This summary report demonstrates an undeniable scientific consensus about the urgency of the climate crisis, its primary causes, its current devastating impacts – especially on most climate vulnerable regions – and the irreversible harm that will occur if warming surpasses 1.5°C, even temporarily.

Its aim is to provide policymakers with a high-level, up-to-date understanding of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and highlight solutions and options for addressing it.

As the next cycle, the Seventh Assessment Report, is not expected before at least 2027, this report provides the foundation for what will be a critical seven-year period to 2030.

We’re not going to have this time again, where we know what the situation is so conclusively. This scientific consensus, combined with the fact that the majority of climate solutions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change exist, provides a unique opportunity for us to address the gaps and take action.

What are the main findings of the AR6 report?

The new report, written by 39 scientists, is separated into three sections arranged by timeframes: Current Status and Trends looks back through history to the present day; Long-term Climate and Development Futures projects scenarios to 2100 and beyond; and Near-term Responses in a Changing Climate looks at current international policy timeframes between now and the 2030s.

Here are some of the main findings:

  • Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe – with widespread loss and damage to both nature and people.
  • GHG emissions will lead to increasing global warming in the near term, and it's likely this will reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2035.
  • We are currently at around 1.1°C of warming and current climate policies are projected to increase global warming by 3.2°C by 2100.
  • The IPCC has "very high confidence" that the risks and adverse impacts from climate change will escalate with increasing global warming.
  • To keep within the 1.5°C limit, emissions need to be reduced by at least 43% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels, and at least 60% by 2035. This is the decisive decade to make that happen.
  • Losses and damages will disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable populations, particularly those in Africa and least-developed countries, creating more poverty.
  • Prioritizing equity, social justice, inclusion and just transition processes would enable ambitious climate mitigation actions and climate-resilient development.
  • Tracked climate finance for mitigation falls short of the levels needed to limit warming to below 2°C or to 1.5°C across all sectors and regions.
  • Public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate adaptation and mitigation.
  • Among other measures to ensure energy systems are net-zero CO2 emitters, we need a "substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use, minimal use of unabated fossil fuels, and use of carbon capture and storage in the remaining fossil fuel systems; energy conservation and efficiency; and greater integration across the energy system".

Why do we need to listen to the IPCC?

The IPCC is the United Nations' (UN) global organization for assessing the science related to climate change and is made up of 195 member countries.

Thousands of experts from all over the world volunteer to objectively assess the latest scientific research and write reports for the IPCC, which are signed off by the governments of member countries.

Over the course of a week-long session held in Switzerland, the 58th Session of the IPCC, governments have approved the shorter Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report line by line and have adopted the longer report.

This will then shape international climate change negotiations at the future COP meetings – the decision-making body of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Is it too late to stay within 1.5 °C?

We need to see 1.5°C not as a target but as a ceiling. Overshooting 1.5 °C means we are entering a danger zone, beyond planetary limits in which natural, animal and human life has flourished for millions of years.

As the IPCC report shows, we're not too late to avoid passing 1.5 °C, but the greatest threat is apathy. The impacts of climate change will only get worse.

The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action – and the financial implications will impact everyone, from governments to companies and families.

Every fraction of a degree counts. We're already seeing the disproportionate impact the warming of 1.1°C is having globally, particularly on the lives and livelihoods of more vulnerable communities.

The IPCC finds nearly half of the world's population live in this danger zone of climate impacts, where their lives and livelihoods are under threat from more frequent and intense extreme weather events, such as flooding and drought, which impacts on food and water security, as well as loss of vital natural ecosystems.

In reality, the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C degrees is not merely a temperature rise of 0.5°C – but as the chart below shows, it means climate risks will be at least two times worse.

We need to act now to protect climate-vulnerable communities, while also taking action towards a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future.

Impacts at 1.5°C and 2°C of warming. IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report
Climate impacts at 1.5°C and 2°C of warming. Image: Climate Council

What needs to happen now and what is the World Economic Forum doing?

The solutions are out there to reduce emissions by at least 43% over the next seven years.

The IPCC highlights that to achieve this we need to transition “from fossil fuels without carbon capture and storage (CCS) to very low- or zero-carbon energy sources, such as renewables or fossil fuels with CCS, demand-side measures and improving efficiency”.

Governments, businesses, civil society and communities can work together to transform our energy, food, transport and manufacturing systems. This can be achieved through clear, courageous and concerted policies to further unlock the transformative power of financial markets, industry, and innovators.

Cumulative number of climate laws passed. IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report
Momentum is building to tackle climate change. Image: Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres outlined a major new Acceleration Agenda in his video message to launch the Synthesis Report, which includes:

  • Ensuring net-zero electricity generation by 2035 for all developed economies and 2040 for the rest of the world.
  • Ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas – consistent with the findings of the International Energy Agency.
  • Stopping any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves. Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to a just energy transition.
  • Establishing a global phase-down of existing oil and gas production compatible with the 2050 global net-zero target.
  • Speeding-up efforts to deliver climate justice to those on the frontlines.

We need similar breakthroughs across the so-called "hard-to-abate" sectors of heavy industry and long-haul transport – and this is where the World Economic Forum’s work with the First Movers Coalition (FMC) is leveraging the power of demand to accelerate the supply of transformational near-zero-emission solutions.

Since it was launched at COP26 in 2021, 74 companies and 12 governments have joined this global, public-private coalition, which aims to decarbonize heavy industry and long-distance transport responsible for 30% of global emissions. To date, FMC represents a strong early market signal of $12 billion in demand for near-zero-emission solutions.

Discover

How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

And we need to catalyse similar breakthroughs to transform our food systems. There is no way to keep 1.5°C alive without stopping and reversing deforestation, transforming our food and land use systems and protecting ocean ecosystems.

Today, agri-food systems are responsible for up to a third of emissions and are the primary driver of biodiversity loss. Our food and land use systems need to flip from carbon emitters to carbon sinks, and from a contributor to protectors of biodiversity, all while meeting global demand for food.

The green transition has multiple benefits beyond the immediate mitigation of climate change impacts. It could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030, according to the International Labour Organization. And protect the 1.2 billion workers in farming, fishing, forestry and tourism activities that rely directly on a healthy and stable environment.

In the year from 2020 to 2021, employment in the renewable energy sector grew by 700,000, reaching 12.7 million jobs, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Climate action is now essential to drive sustainable development. Failure to act could shrink global GDP by up to 18% in the next 30 years, according to the Swiss Re Institute.

The net-zero transition will require $125 trillion by 2050 in climate investment. While this level of investment has yet to be achieved, momentum is building. In 2021, the world spent $755 billion on low-carbon energy technologies, up 27% from the year prior.

Guterres looked ahead to COP28, which will be held in November 2023 in Dubai, calling for “all G20 leaders to have committed to ambitious new economy-wide nationally determined contributions encompassing all greenhouse gases and indicating their absolute emissions cuts targets for 2035 and 2040. The transition must cover the entire economy. Partial pledges won’t cut it”.

Guided by the solutions laid out by the IPCC, this must be our moment to course correct and to usher in a complete and urgent response that accelerates all our efforts.

COP28 Presidency
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Contents
How is this IPCC report different from previous ones?What are the main findings of the AR6 report?Why do we need to listen to the IPCC?Is it too late to stay within 1.5 °C?What needs to happen now and what is the World Economic Forum doing?

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