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Are we too late? Climate change assessment ahead of COP28

3 min read

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) sources reliable and impartial scientific research for Parliament. Parliamentary Climate and Environment Thematic Research Lead, and a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Professor Tamsin Edwards shares her insights ahead of COP28.

Are we too late? This is a question that, as a climate scientist, I am frequently asked. In March this year, the world’s climate experts gave their answer: there are multiple “feasible and effective” options available now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the window of opportunity to secure a “liveable and sustainable future for all” is rapidly closing. 

These findings are part of the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC’s comprehensive assessments inform the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) including the COP28 talks taking place in Dubai from 30 November.  

It is “unequivocal” that we have warmed the climate, reports the IPCC. Global warming has reached 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. Climate change is affecting extreme weather around the world. Extreme heat events that were once infrequent are now three times more likely. At 2°C of global warming this extreme heat would become nearly six times more likely. Under current policies, the IPCC estimates the world will warm by 3°C. 

The predicted impacts will be widespread. Around 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change. The increasing frequency of extreme events has already exposed millions to acute food insecurity and reduced water security, and these risks are expected to amplify as warming continues.  

The UK will not be immune. Key risks for Europe include heat-related deaths, illnesses and fires, crop failures, water scarcity, and flooding from both rivers and coasts. Weather extremes are also increasingly driving displacement and involuntary migration in many parts of the world. 

To limit warming to 1. 5°C, the IPCC found that global emissions must be cut almost in half by 2030. It gives three simple pointers for the way forward. First: tried and tested options exist, like solar and wind energy, electrification and green infrastructure in cities, energy efficiency and reduced demand, better land management, and reduced food waste. These are all technically viable, cost-effective and have public support. Second, options should be designed for diverse contexts by drawing on different cultural values and interests as well as scientific and local knowledge. Third, they must be scaled up and applied widely. 

Climate options come with additional benefits. The economic benefit for people’s health from improving air quality is predicted to be the same – if not larger – than the cost of reducing or avoiding emissions. 

The impact of the choices and actions of this decade will last for thousands of years. Decisions made during and after COP28 could create a “liveable and sustainable future” for all – now and for generations to come. 

The IPCC’s recently elected Chair, Professor Jim Skea, will be speaking in Parliament on the evening of 20th November at an event organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). Prof Skea, who is Professor of Sustainable Energy at Imperial College London, will be joined by IPCC lead authors Professor Ed Hawkins, expert in climate predictions, and Dr Helen Adams, expert in climate-related migration, as well as by Professor Tamsin Edwards. The event will be chaired by Barry Gardiner MP with an introduction by Baroness Parminter.

Contact POST for further information: postevents@parliament.uk

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