Breaking down the latest IPCC climate report

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IPCC report

On August 9, 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the world's most extensive report on climate change, which the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General called "a code red for humanity." The report synthesized information from over 14,000 references to assess the current impacts of climate change and future risks, both on global and regional scales. But why is this report so important, and how could its findings impact you? 

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Key takeaways

  • The latest IPCC report is the first of four reports to be published as part of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report.

  • The report concludes that human-driven climate change is a fact and that 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming cannot be prevented over the next 30 years.

  • On a positive note, the report finds that warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius can be prevented if we act quickly to cut carbon emissions.

  • A total clean energy transition would allow us to reach this target but will require policy changes.

  • Visit the EnergySage Marketplace to be part of the clean energy transition while saving money!

The IPCC is a UN body of 195 member countries that, according to its website, "...was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options." Founded in 1988 by the UN Environment and the World Meteorological Organization, the IPCC has published five complete Assessment Reports, each reviewing the latest climate science. The most recent Fifth Assessment Report, published in 2014, established the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming target in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The IPCC includes three Working Groups, each of which publishes one report as part of a complete Assessment Report. Each working group serves a unique purpose, defined as the following by the IPCC:

  • Working Group I assesses the physical science of climate change;

  • Working Group II assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, the negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it; and

  • Working Group III focuses on climate change mitigation, assessing methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

The most recent IPCC report is the first of four publications that will comprise the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report–so be prepared to release three more reports over the next year. Over 230 leading climate scientists in Working Group I wrote and reviewed this latest report, and at almost 4,000 pages in length, it was approved line by line by all 195 IPCC member countries. The Working Group II report is expected in February 2022, followed shortly by the Working Group III report in March 2022. The final contribution of the Sixth Assessment Report will be the Synthesis Report, which is anticipated in October 2022.

According to Henry Fountain, a leading climate change reporter at the New York Times, there are three main takeaways from the latest report:

1. The planet is warming, and humans are responsible

One of the reasons the latest report has gained so much attention is that it is the first IPCC report to state that humans are unequivocally responsible for the warming climate. Before this report, the IPCC stated that they were confident that humans were the main driver of climate change but had never established it as a fact until now. This shift from confidence to certainty stems from improvements in climate science over time–scientists now have more climate data from the past, a better understanding of the present, and more robust models for the future.

2. Even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases, Earth will continue to warm over the next three decades

The most alarming conclusion from the report is that we have already emitted so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere that there's no way to prevent warming over the next 30 years. From the freezing of Texas to some of the largest wildfires ever recorded in California to the first-ever water shortage in the Lake Mead reservoir, the United States is already feeling the impacts of a warming and intensifying climate. By 2050, the average global temperature will warm at least 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, causing even more severe weather. Over this timeframe, we'll see consequences such as further shrinking of glaciers and melting of ice sheets, substantial sea level rise, flooding, and more frequent and extreme heat waves.

3. We still have time to prevent warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius

Though many doom and gloom headlines have surfaced from the Working Group I report, the report also provides some hope for the future. Suppose we can rapidly and dramatically cut greenhouse emissions over 30 years. In that case, we likely won't exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming–the threshold established by the Paris Agreement to limit some of the worst impacts of climate change. So, while we will continue to see more severe weather as the world inevitably warms by 1.5 degrees Celsius, we can maintain this temperature and prevent further consequences if we act now.

The most crucial shift that needs to happen to cut emissions is a total clean energy transition. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 60 percent of energy in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels, including natural gas, coal, and oil. To limit our warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we need to quickly reach a point where we no longer emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Most countries, including the U.S., are far behind this target; however, the current Administration's goals, including reaching "100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035" and "net zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050," will help us get there, if we can implement policy–such as the infrastructure bill and budget reconciliation–to make them a reality.

While findings from these reports can feel overwhelming, all change starts with individuals. Solar will play a prominent role in the U.S.'s energy sector, and by installing a solar system on your property or business, you can be part of the clean energy transition–while saving money! On average, homeowners will usually save between $10,000 and $30,000 over the lifetime of their solar system, and the best way to maximize savings is to compare quotes. To get up to seven custom quotes from pre-vetted solar installers, visit the EnergySage Marketplace today.

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