This article was updated on April 4, 2022, to include findings from the most recent IPCC report).
The IPCC has released a new climate report, building on the findings of a previous report released in February. But what exactly is the IPCC? What do these reports mean, and how are they different from previous reports? Is our situation as grim as some of the news headlines make it sound?
We’ve prepared this guide to help you understand what these latest climate reports are, what their findings mean for our world and what we can do about them.
What is the IPCC and what do they do?
IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is the scientific group assembled by the United Nations to monitor and assess all global science related to climate change. Every IPCC report focuses on different aspects of climate change.
This latest report is the third part of the IPCC’s 6th Assessment report (AR6 WGIII). It compiles the latest knowledge on climate change, the threats we’re already facing today, and what we can do to limit further temperature rises and the dangers that poses for the whole planet. The latest report (WGIII) focuses on how we limit further climate change. The second working group report (WGII), which was released in February, focused on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.
What should I know about the latest IPCC report?
Recent IPCC reports show some similar things as previous reports which you may already know about: that climate change is already causing more frequent and more severe storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and other extreme weather events. But each report includes more recent and detailed science, allowing it to describe current impacts and predict future trends with greater accuracy.
The latest IPCC report shows greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and current plans to address climate change are not ambitious enough to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—a threshold scientists believe is necessary to avoid even more catastrophic impacts.
What’s particularly troubling is that these emissions are not evenly distributed—the wealthiest countries are responsible for disproportionately more emissions than developing countries, even though developing countries are experiencing more severe climate impacts, as the report in February showed.
Is there any hope then?
Climate change is here today, reshaping our world in ways big and small—but that doesn’t mean our future is predetermined. We still have the ability to limit further warming—and to help communities around the world adapt to the changes that have already occurred. Every fraction of a degree counts.
We must accelerate the global transition to clean energy and reach “net zero” emissions as soon possible. But as the latest IPCC report shows, we’ll not only need to cut out emissions—we’ll have to remove some of the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. Fortunately, nature created a powerful technology that does just that: photosynthesis. Plants naturally absorb carbon from the air and store it in their roots and in the soil. In fact, our green allies could provide nearly a third of the emission reductions we need to stay within the 1.5C threshold.
The most urgent thing we can do to help nature fight climate change is protect the natural habitats around the world that store billions of tons of this “living carbon.” We can also help by changing the way we manage working lands like farms and timber forests so they retain more carbon, and restore natural habitats on lands that have been cleared or degraded.
What can we do to stop climate change?
A global challenge like climate change requires global solutions. It will require movement-building and on-the-ground action, as well as new national policies and economic transformations. Here’s a few things that communities, governments, and business can do.
- When it comes to working with nature to fight climate change, we cannot achieve effective action without the leadership of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs).
- These communities are some of the most important protectors of the world’s living carbon, as lands owned or managed by IPLCs often have much lower deforestation rates than government protected areas. In fact, Indigenous-managed lands support about 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity and 17 percent of the planet’s forest carbon.
- To help Indigenous groups keep playing this crucial role, governments must formally recognize their land and resource rights, and funding for climate action should include support for their communities.
Related reading: Protecting nature through authentic partnerships.
- The latest IPCC report shows that only 24 countries in the world are actually reducing their emissions. All countries—but especially the wealthy countries that generate the most emissions—must create more ambitious climate action plans to eliminate emissions and pull more carbon from their atmosphere.
- One effective way to do this is to invest more in nature. The IPCC estimates it would cost about $400 billion to make the changes to agriculture, forestry and other land uses required to limit emissions. That sounds like a lot—but it’s less than the government subsidies these sectors are already receiving.
- The best part? Many of these natural climate solutions benefit society in other ways, like improving air and water quality, producing more food and protecting the variety of natural life we all depend on.
- Like national governments, businesses must first and foremost commit to reaching net-zero emissions in their operations—they have to stop putting more carbon into the air.
- The most direct way to do this is to switch to clean energy sources. Transitioning to renewable energy provides a low-cost, low-carbon, low-conflict pathway to meet global energy needs without harming nature and communities.
- Those sectors that will have a hard time reducing their emissions today—like airlines, for example—should find ways to offset their impact.
- Carbon markets offer one way to achieve this. Carbon markets allow businesses and other polluters to purchase “offsets” for their unavoidable emissions, which pay to protect natural lands that would have otherwise been cleared without that funding or restore those that would not recover.
Related reading: An illustrated guide to carbon offsets.
Earth Day is not just another day on the calendar
It’s a calling for us to come together. We can change the conversation from dire to doable and create real change to heal our planet. Find actions to take right here.
What can I do as an individual?
- Learn how to talk about climate change: We can all help by engaging and educating others. Our guide will help you feel comfortable raising these topics at the dinner table with your friends and family. Download our guide to talk about climate change.
- Share your thoughts: Share this page on your social channels so others know what they can do, too. Here are some hashtags to join the conversation: #IPCC #ClimateAction #NatureNow
- Join collective action: By speaking collectively, we can influence climate action at the national and global levels. You can add your name to stand with The Nature Conservancy in calling for real solutions now.
- Keep learning: Educate yourself and share the knowledge—you can start with some of these articles, videos, and other resources.