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IPCC debrief.

Donald Trump, Katie Hopkins and climate change… what do they all have in common? They are all highly toxic to the planet, they send many members of the public into despair and they all have a blatant disregard for human welfare.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) new report released earlier this year on the state of climate change made my heart plummet as I was once again reminded of the urgency of the climate disaster. It is a harrowing report from the IPCC warning that it looks like we’re still on course for climate catastrophe.

The IPCC is a body within the United Nations which is responsible for assessing the scientific evidence relating to climate change, its causes, associated risks and potential solutions. It brings together thousands of the world’s leading scientists who are tasked with analysing and breaking down the most current global research and reformulating it into a comprehensive summary. This report is then verified and signed off by members of the international community.

The main purpose of the IPCC is to provide governments with highly credible scientific information that can be used to shape climate policy. The first ever IPCC Assessment Report was released as far back as 1992 where right off the bat the IPCC had made clear that climate change was a very real phenomenon. They are certain that the emissions produced by human activity were increasing the levels of greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere and are responsible for the rises in global temperatures that have been observed within the Earth’s climate (see details here).

We are now on the sixth IPCC Assessment Report and still yet to heed the warnings of the IPCC. The most current IPCC Assessment Report is very clear in its message and begins by setting out bluntly the current state of the Earth’s climate by saying:

“Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming, with the global surface temperature reaching 1.1°C above 1850–1900 in 2011–2020. Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, with unequal historical and ongoing contributions arising from unsustainable energy use, land use and land-use change, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production across regions, between and within countries, and among individuals” (see details here).

This report explains that human-caused climate change is influencing many of the extreme weather and climate events which we are witnessing across every region of the planet. As a result of this we have seen huge losses in terms of wildlife, biodiversity and, generally speaking, our natural assets such as forests, rivers and oceans have been severely damaged as a result of man-made climate change.

Tragically, it is the most vulnerable communities that are currently experiencing, and are set to continue to experience, the greatest amount of harm caused by climate change. It is estimated by the IPCC that around 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in areas where there are significant risks posed by climate change. These risks include acute food insecurity, lower water security, and a fifteen times higher risk of death as a result of floods, droughts and storms in high-risk regions in comparison to low-risk regions.

In the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan there is embedded within it a presumption against all new oil and gas drilling licenses, however, this is only a presumption as the ability to grant new oil and gas drilling licenses is an issue reserved for Westminster.

Critics have pointed out that cutting off the taps so abruptly may not be sensible. Particularly with the economic consequences of such a move… with some projections (published by the Scottish Government) suggesting that it will lead to Scotland being £6 billion worse off by 2030 as a result of highly paid jobs in the fossil fuel industry being replaced with lower paid jobs in the clean energy sector.

There have also been eyebrows raised over whether the transition strategy and shift away from domestic production of oil and gas will only result in Scotland becoming a larger net importer of oil, ultimately leading to greater emissions globally as a result of the increased emissions created in the production process of overseas suppliers.

These criticisms present a challenge to the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan… but how are we meant to achieve net zero targets with the facilitation of new coal mines and the granting of oil & gas drilling licences.

As climate change gets worse and global warming increases, the effectiveness and viability of adaptation options will be reduced. This is due to the increase in damages that will occur alongside rises in global temperatures which will eventually result in natural and human systems reaching the physical limits of what they can adapt to. Because of this, simply “adapting” to climate change is not a long-term solution.

We must achieve net-zero CO2 emissions. This has to be achieved in tandem with significant reductions in the levels of other greenhouse gas emissions.

Some obvious policy routes towards achieving this goal would include disinvestment from and a fast, but reasonable, phasing out of fossil fuels. This can be done alongside a substantial injection of investment into renewables and clean forms of energy. Also, we can begin to place a higher value on our natural assets upon which we depend and commit to the restoration of our natural landscapes through reforestation, greater forest management, soil carbon sequestration, peatland restoration, and coastal blue carbon management.

Not only will an investment in renewable energy and a fast transition away from oil and gas protect our natural landscapes and resources on which we all depend it will offer more energy security. Oil and gas prices have been proven volatile - as a result of fluctuations in the international market and external pressures which are beyond any one country’s control – so investment in alternative forms of clean energy can provide us with security that will shield us from market fluctuations.

The economic pitfalls in the current green transition are an inevitable outcome of any transition period. This has not gone unnoticed by the Scottish Government in their strategy where they have committed to a total of £5 billion worth of investment in the net zero energy economy. This is supplemented by a £100 million Green Jobs Fund being created to support green industries and the green jobs in them. As we invest more money into the clean energy sector it will continue to expand and create more employment opportunities. This will surely balance out some of the short-term damages to the economy caused by the transition process.

We must think long-term, not short-term.

If we don’t, the outcomes may be far worse and our futures very bleak. Further investment in the oil and gas industry is essentially funnelling money into a dying industry. The answers to the issues surrounding the climate, over-reliance on imported fuel sources, energy security and employment are not to further invest in fossil fuels but the complete opposite.

We need a ramping up of investment in green energy to create jobs, energy security and, crucially, protect our natural environment and resources.

Reading all this, you may be thinking “Well, looks like we’re pretty scunnered here”. How do we even begin to take on the behemoth that is climate change?

The overwhelming stress and anxiety that stems from the sheer scale of the issues that are posed by climate change is one of the largest hurdles to action. The mammoth challenge crushes individuals (politicians and citizens alike) under its weight, as we are constantly confronted with obstacles and chains of events where our behaviours have little impact, are circular, or seem to have a double-edged effect.

In fact, climate change is the exact type of problem that our brains do not have the required tools to process. It presents a seemingly impossible situation. This, ultimately, leads to what has been dubbed climate apathy - a form of climate denial which is essentially a coping mechanism deployed to deal with feelings of helplessness and which results in inaction - but this is the exact opposite of what is needed for real change to occur.

Here, I want to highlight one way in which the amount of climate apathy in society can be reduced to change the way we perceive environmental concerns.

Communication is key in the fight against climate change. The thickness of scientific information on the environment often consumes the way we represent climate change. Scientific facts, research, theories and models are incredibly useful for guiding our understanding and providing us with the practical ability to respond effectively to the climate crisis. However, in terms of the effect this has on our motivation to respond and attach meaning to the issue may be very different. This is because it leads to issues of the environment feeling as though they are something abstract, detached or not of immediate concern.

One way to get around this is to change the way we talk about climate change. Engaging in storytelling when we are talking about climate change, for example, could be useful. Our brains are meaning-making machines and historically stories have been the primary way in which humans have communicated and conveyed information to one another. We are highly receptive to stories, and they provide the substance from which we create meaning about the world and our experiences. Stories will add a personal aspect to the conversation, creating a sense of connection. This will allow us to foster empathy through a common understanding and direction on climate change. We can attempt to weave a thread through our shared experiences and highlight the issues which are posed by climate change which affect us all, creating a sense of unity and common purpose.

At this point, the fate of the planet is truly in the hands of international governments and depends upon their swift and effective action if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report provides us with some startling observations, facts, terrifying trends and potential outcomes. However, we shouldn’t be surprised. They have been warning us about this in the form of these reports since 1992, which, up until now, have pretty much been conveniently ignored by governments and sacrificed for whatever issues have seemed more pressing at the time. What can they say is more pressing now?

As Antonio Guterres, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations, put it the “Climate bomb is ticking”. It certainly is, but we’re not out of time yet.


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