People in our community and around the world need to clearly understand the recent report by the IPCC—its warning, and, above all, its message that current actions are inadequate and must be replaced by aggressive actions by humanity and its leaders. The good news? We have the tools we need to make a difference. The City of Orillia will be taking steps this year to implement its climate change action plan, Orillia’s Climate Future—and Orillia residents can expect to hear about—and see—some of the actions that the IPCC is recommending being implemented right here in our community. Your city will be asking you to go electric in your homes and your car.
What was the IPCC Climate Change Report that was issued in early March of this year?
The AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 was a summary of a cycle of reports that have been published over the five years between 2018 and 2023, reports which demonstrated how greenhouse gases caused by human activities are wreaking unprecedented damage around the world. The report indicated that, at current emission levels, many parts of the planet will become unliveable in the next few decades.
What was the central warning of the report?
The ability for human life to continue much as it has been over the past century rests on the actions we take in the next seven years. The report’s conclusion is that “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” There is no time to lose if we hope to meet the target of limiting the rise in global average temperature to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Failure to do so will lead to ever more extreme weather events (tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts and flooding) that will take lives, destroy infrastructure, reduce food production, and make parts of the world unhabitable—in short, create a world that may be unrecognizable and for which humanity is simply not prepared.
What actions are needed to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis?
The report was not all doom and gloom. The writers sent a clear message that we have what it takes—right now—to reduce greenhouse gases quickly, perhaps quickly enough, if we act aggressively, to restrict global warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius that has been the target over the past two decades. The report warns, however, that we cannot delay any longer. If we do, the global temperature will rise to 2 degrees or higher—with catastrophic consequences.
What must we do? The MIT Technology Review summarizes the report’s recommendations:
1. Deploy wind and solar power, and a lot of it. Cutting emissions in the near term will require shifting away from polluting fossil fuels for energy production and toward renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. Tzeporah Berman, international program director with Stand.earth, argues that “avoiding the worst-case scenarios is only possible if we stop the expansion of new oil, gas and coal . . . and focus on efficiency, reducing dependence on polluting fossil fuels, scaling up electrification of transport and renewable energy” – in short, leaving oil and gas in the ground. Making the change to renewable energy provides a low-cost, low-carbon path to meet global energy needs without harming nature and communities.
2. Cut methane emissions from fossil-fuel production and waste. Carbon dioxide is the main culprit in climate change, but it’s not alone in its planet-warming effects. Methane is about 80 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane emissions, primarily from agriculture and oil and gas exploration and production, must be cut by one-third by 2030.
3. Protect natural ecosystems that trap carbon. Wetlands, forests, grasslands, and the tropical rain forests are among the planet’s largest carbon sinks. Preserving these ecosystems is a low-cost way to slow climate change. In addition, about 20% of global emissions are “from agriculture, forestry and changes in land use. . . Conserving and restoring natural ecosystems will not only be key for preserving biodiversity—it’ll have emissions benefits too.”
4. Use energy efficiently in vehicles, homes, and industry. The shift to electric vehicles is underway, but needs to accelerate. In addition, shifting to public transportation and biking for some travel needs could be an inexpensive way to limit near-term emissions. And the upside is that boosting efficiency in everything from vehicles and buildings to appliances and equipment often ends up paying for itself in cost savings.
So what needs to be done?
First and foremost, a sense of urgency must motivate our actions. The report makes clear that the world needs to see the use of fossil fuels peak “by 2025 at the very latest, nearly halve GHG emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero CO2 emissions around 2050.” The World Resources Institute reporting sums up clearly:
“We’ll need an all-hands-on-deck approach to guarantee that communities experiencing increasingly harmful impacts of the climate crisis have the resources they need to adapt to this new world. Governments, the private sector, civil society and individuals must all step up to keep the future we desire in sight. A narrow window of opportunity is still open, but there’s not one second to waste (italics ours).”
The IPCC report could not be clearer. The World Economic Forum notes, “We’re not too late to avoid passing 1.5 degrees Celsius, 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.”
Take heed, Canada. Take heed, Ontario. Take heed, Orillia. We are all called upon to act—now.