The final instalment of the sixth assessment report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) joins the preceding ones in warning the world that the window for meaningful climate action is closing fast. The three earlier instalments had reiterated that, without a quantum jump in the ambition on climate action, catastrophic warming and resulting climate effects await us by the end of the century. In 2018, the IPCC had warned that if, by 2030, the world failed to cut emissions by half of the levels in 2010, there was little chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The reality, however, is emissions continue to rise, despite the much-publicised climate-action commitments (including Net Zero announcements) of both developed and developing countries. Even though at 0.9%, the rise in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions last year was far less sharper than the historical worst of 6% (in 2021), emissions “still remain on an unsustainable growth trajectory”, as per the International Energy Agency (IEA).
IPCC assessment reports typically take six-to eight years to put together; so, AR6 is very likely the last before 2030, by when the window for action to stay on the 1.5°C pathway would have closed. So, the need to act on IPCC’s advice couldn’t be more pronounced. AR6 is quite clear that the level of ambition on climate action currently endorsed by nations is nowhere near adequate. It says there is a “substantial gap” between the emissions resulting in 2030 if countries implement the Nationally Determined Contributions they submitted before the Glasgow Summit (2021) and the levels projected for modelled mitigation routes that limit warming to 1.5°C. Indeed, without a scaling up of NDC ambitions post 2030, median warming could clock 2.8°C by 2100. Without a strengthening of climate-action policies from the level they were at in 2020, we are staring at a 3.2°C warming of the planet by the end of the century. Anything above 1.5°C is projected to cause irreversible climate change with catastrophic effects.
Climate action financing, for both adaptation and mitigation will be crucial—the IPCC says average annual mitigation investment to be made over 2020-2030 to limit warming to 1.5°C is six times greater than current levels. Even a 2°C limit needs thrice the investment happening currently. It calls for “accelerated financial support for developing countries from developed countries and other sources”, in the form of “scaled-up public grants for mitigation and adaptation funding for vulnerable regions”. India, which is projected to be among the worst sufferers of long-term climate change effects among the larger countries, has hailed the report for endorsing the principle of climate justice. AR6 offers hope that the world can still keep to the 1.5°C pathway only if countries drastically scale up action to reduce emissions.
Given that a shared ruinous future awaits all nations if this doesn’t happen, the developed countries can’t continue to think of climate action funding for the rest of the world primarily in terms of debt and private-sector investment. A large chunk of this has to come in the form of grants, including for loss and damages. Developed nations also need to pay heed to UN secretary general Antonio Guterres’s exhortation to advancing their Net Zero target to as close as possible to 2040. Only then will there be space for developing nations to transition to a Net Zero pathway without sacrificing growth.