Unprecedented. Unequivocal. Irreversible. The key words that leap out of the latest report by the world’s leading climate science body are as shocking as they are terrifying.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that unless drastic and urgent changes are made to the way we live, global temperatures will rise to dangerous levels and the world will be changed for the worse for ever. The worst effects of climate change can be averted, they say, but we can’t turn back the clock.
In the first section to be published of the three-part report (science; impacts; mitigation), the IPCC says hopes of meeting the ambition set out at climate talks in Paris in 2015 – of ensuring the world does not get more than 1.5C hotter than it was before the industrial era – are fading. Some of the changes brought about by climate change are already irreversible, it says, and there is only a decade left to curb countries’ greenhouse gas emissions, or risk a worsening of extreme weather events and the destruction of the natural world. It will pile pressure on world leaders in advance of the COP26 summit in November.
The IPCC’s sixth report, echoing the findings of its fifth, concludes that it is beyond doubt that human action is to blame for environmental changes that have seen an increase in wildfires, floods and droughts, as well as ocean acidification, melting glaciers and sea level rises. António Guterres, the UN secretary general, called it “irrefutable… a code red for humanity. Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
However, in a sign of how little confidence the experts have in politicians, the third part of the report, covering what we can do to change things, has already been leaked by scientists determined that their findings will not be watered down. It lays the blame for the climate emergency squarely at the feet of richer nations (the wealthiest top 10 are the heaviest polluters, pumping into the atmosphere 10 times the emissions of the poorest 10 per cent) and finds that meat-eating is a key driver of global heating.
According to the leaked report, which will not officially be published until next year: “A shift to diets with a higher share of plant-based protein in regions with excess consumption of calories and animal-source food can lead to substantial reductions in emissions, while also providing health benefits … Plant-based diets can reduce emissions by up to 50 per cent compared to the average emission intensive western diet.” The IPCC has previously warned that the climate emergency cannot be solved without addressing the meat and agriculture crisis.
Despite the fact that much of the damage done by humans to the natural world cannot be undone, it is important to focus on the narrowing window of opportunity to curb the worst effects of the climate emergency. All of us need to be part of the solution, acting swiftly and with determination and commitment.
One of the best ways to do that is to make greener choices as individuals, and one of the quickest and easiest things to change is what we eat – starting with a Meat Free Monday. Enjoying a single day of plant-based food every week is the first step towards lightening the load we are all placing on the planet, and for many it is the start of a lifelong commitment. If you and everyone you know isn’t already tucking in, then now is the time to sign up!