This blog post is provided by Associate Editor, Peter Bridgewater, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Australia. 

With all the expected media storm, the latest IPCC report was issued on August 9,  scientists aplenty opined on the news media that this really was the last corral, politicians looked grave on TV and intoned how the world must come together to fight this challenge, as if they had just heard the words “climate” and “change” come together and the UN Secretary-General declared it was “code red for humanity”. The reports timing, on the eve of the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP26, may focus minds.  But let’s look at a little history. 

Twelve years ago, the UNFCCC met in Copenhagen as COP15. The UNFCCC COP15 was billed, as is COP26, as “ the most critical COP”, and it was eagerly anticipated that  a deal was to be done.  Indeed, the signs were propitious – many governments being outspoken of the changes need, and the ones they were making, or intended to make. It was remarkable that while national delegates negotiated the “deal” were several Prime Ministers, including those of the UK and Australia, prowling the corridors. At one minute to midnight a deal of sorts was struck after the direct intervention by key heads of state.  Those heads of state prompted the Copenhagen accord that did away with the Kyoto Protocol that had been in place since 1997.

Fast forward to 2015, COP21 in Paris, where the bones agreed in Copenhagen were to be finally fleshed out.  During that meeting the world held its collective breath, and eventually a new agreement was born that seemed to have the right level of ambition. That ambition was to limit global warming from pre-industrial levels to 2˚C, with an aim for a limit of 1.5˚C.  And now COP 26 (a year late) will review how far the world is on track to meet that ambition, and what more needs to be done; plenty, as the IPCC report reveals.

Meanwhile, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15, will open in October in Kunming, China but there is still uncertainty about timing and format. In the intervening time there will be a series of subsidiary meetings finally settling a new global framework for biodiversity. Progress on that has not really been especially inspiring with little new reflected in the most recent draft.  Indeed, It is easily arguable that neither the biodiversity nor climate change conventions have achieved anything like their original objectives set when they were both signed at the UN “Earth Summit”  in 1992. To achieve these objectives, better links between the decisions taken – and then implemented – by parties to the two conventions is essential.  Biodiversity is certainly strongly affected by climate change – but in turn offers both mitigation and adaptation possibilities to the energising demon of climate change: the code green. 

The recent joint report by IPCC and  the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) offers useful insights here.  That it has taken so long for such a report to emerge is testament to humanities inability to see the real urgency of the current situation.  And yet at the recent IPBES plenary there was equivocation among some countries to take notice of the report at all. We are perhaps not helped by talk of biodiversity loss.   Perhaps if we “level-up” our terminology and speak of biodiversity change alongside climate change we may start making progress. 

But politicians are now clenched jaw and vouchsafing we are on the path to NetZero by 2050. In the Guardian of August 10, The UK government chief Science adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, suggests “This means transformation is required at every level of society…. policymakers will need to work in new ways, sharing ideas across disciplines to plot a clear path from here to net zero. This is a whole systems challenge. Tackling it will require a systemic approach.” Indeed, it will, Sir Patrick.  It will also require an ability to move through timelines and bureaucratic nonsense like a hot knife through butter.  IPBES is about to embark on assessment of what is known about transformative change, and how it can be implemented. Yet this will be a 3-year endeavour beginning only next year.  A quicker, if “dirtier”, assessment is what the world really needs, not one waiting to report halfway through this defining decade.

I was touched by a recent tweet from the young broadcaster and birdy Indy Kiemel Green reacting to the IPCC report who said “I genuinely had a nightmare about all this last night. I’m terrified, sad and angry.” We owe it to him and his generation especially, to try and fix what we can, while we can.  As President Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry says, “We need all countries to take the bold steps required to keep 1.5°C within reach.” Unarguable – yet so like the remarks of Gordon Brown, Kevin Rudd, and Connie Hedegaard just before COP15…..  The IPCC web site has a superb painting by artist Alisa Singer, and the aphorism ”as we witness our planet transforming around us we watch, listen, measure…respond”.  So,  there is no need to lose hope , but, guys, get your act together and sort it quickly so we get to code green and stop our collective nightmare.