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Let Earth Day Reignite our Activist Ambitions: reflections on IPCC AR6

Updated: Oct 17, 2023


IPCC audiences are larger, and more diverse and geographically widespread nowadays. This is, in fact, a reason to be hopeful on our complex, messy, hectic planet! With a greater focus on solutions than in previous cycles, the three Working Group Reports of the IPCC's sixth assessment cycle (AR6) have communicated the science and solutions to climate crisis- maybe those now waking up will also step up?

Today is Earth Day 2022 and the theme is ‘Invest in our Planet’. This sounds like a financial statement, that speaks only to the economic metrics of adaptation. We could say this theme is missing a trick here, but it might just be a sign of our times – that the urgency that corporations, industries, and governments step up and pay up is crucial! Alongside the news chatter and Twitter streams of Earth Day 2022 are the jarring realities within the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Reports (AR6), which were produced by its three expert Working Groups. Through publication delays (no thanks to Covid-19), the reports became public between August 2021 and April 2022, and since having been recently blessed with Report III it is time for a wrap-up and reflection – and perhaps a pause for mild optimism for the sake of our wellbeing!

For many readers, these grim realities come as no surprise, but the IPCC has now such a diverse and widespread audience that a significant portion of people lack the knowledge, solutions, and agency to directly tackle the crisis; it is a privilege to already understand the science, to work in renewables, to go zero-waste, and even to have the freedom of speech to strikes. This is what makes AR6 so valuable and significant - it intends to educate and inspire everybody from politicians to high-schoolers to bus drivers to advertisers. An incredibly robust, reliable source of scientific information, the reported assertions have high confidence values that have been an obvious strength throughout AR6.

When compared to previous IPCC assessment cycles, it is clear that there is a greater focus on solutions across all Working Groups, and with more regional information and more integration across the Working Groups. Understanding that solutions do exist, with so many being implemented as we speak (and that more will come in the future), is a hugely positive aspect that gives us a brighter side of the three reports.

Scope of the Working Groups' Roles

  • addresses the updated physical understanding of the climate system and climate change (using latest climate science with evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, global and regional climate simulations)

  • shows how and why climate has changed to date, and the improved understanding of human influence on climate characteristics, such as extreme events

  • offers a greater focus on regional information that can be used for climate risk assessments

  • assesses impacts of climate change, from a worldwide to a regional view of ecosystems and biodiversity

  • reviews implications for humans and their diverse societies, cultures and settlements

  • considers the vulnerabilities and the capacities and limits of the natural world and of human societies to adapt

  • informs adaptation and mitigation efforts together with options for resilience

  • assesses progress in limiting emissions and the range of available mitigation options in energy and urban systems, and other sectors, in the context of sustainable development

  • addresses connections between short to medium-term actions and long-term emission pathways that limit warming

The Headlines of AR6

  1. Climate impacts are already more widespread and severe than expected

  2. In the short-term, we are locked into even worse impacts from climate change

  3. Risks will escalate quickly due to temperature rise, often causing irreversible impacts on people and nature

  4. Adaptation is crucial… whilst workable solutions exist right now, there is more support needed for vulnerable communities

  5. Some impacts are already too severe to adapt to, so global adaptation is urgent in order to maximise mitigation of losses and damages

  6. There is a ‘Rapidly Closing Window of Opportunity’ for action

‘Daunting’ would be putting it lightly – even the UN Secretary General himself, Antonio Guterres, described it as a 'file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world’.

Climate anxiety is pervasive among activists and those just learning about our shared reality, there is no question, and governments do demonstrate unease. Of course, it is often hard to tell, for instance as the UK government produced glaring omissions in its most recent energy strategy (did someone say ‘new nuclear’??) ... meanwhile in civil society, we are having more conversations about climate anxiety, traumas, and the pressure on consumers to make perfect lifestyle choices.

Picking us back up is one of our own, UKYCCer Elouise Myall. She stated for The Guardian that 'it isn’t bad, wrong, or inconvenient for me to have climate anxiety, because it ultimately means that I care about the climate crisis.'

The weight of climate anxiety is very real, however, we see the importance and value in letting your knowledge be the stimulus for action, and energising others to do equally.

Of course, the concept of Climate Change is not new to the vast majority, but the nitty-gritty of multi-level responsibility can be misunderstood and overlooked by the masses because the world is so ridiculously complex and fast-paced! So the genuine accessibility of the IPCC communications deserves our praise! The exclusivity of the scientific community has for much too long been elitist, assuming that being inaccessible to wider public audiences would devalue it; however civil society is more engaged with climate science than ever before... Authors and publishers are practically now obliged to tailor language to a diverse, multi-level audience (yes, even non-policymakers will read the 'Summary for Policymakers').

In all, yes the IPCC headlines are frankly intimidating, and counterproductive distraction politics continues to be demoralising, but we are not to lose faith in our collective power to band together. After all, it is now or never, so the activism cannot stop! Let’s not forget that when the IPCC released the 2018 Special Report, which detailed the infamous 1.5 C warming threshold, the climate activism that followed was an incredible and immeasurable wave. It might feel like yesterday to some of us, maybe like a lifetime ago to others, but those enormous Youth Strikes lined streets worldwide! Could this round, AR6, bring yet another awakening? Despite the challenging and complex context, our UKYCC community must be united in how we strategise and deliver actions, to address the crisis to save ourselves and nature.

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