After three decades of warnings from the planet’s top climate scientists, world leaders have been issued with a “final warning”: act immediately to tackle man-made emissions and curb and reverse global heating or we will all face the consequences.
In a “synthesis” report, the final part of its sixth assessment on the state of the environment, which took eight years to produce, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sets out the damage climate change has already done to large parts of the planet, including “increasingly irreversible” harm to vital ecosystems and biodiversity, and the millions of human lives destroyed and affected.
António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe.” He urged rich countries to focus on a net zero deadline of 2040, rather than the stated target of 2050, and take immediate, drastic action to scale up investment in renewables and low-carbon tech.
In a nod to the best film at this year’s Oscars, he added: “Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”
With global temperatures currently at 1.1C above pre-industrial levels, the chance of keeping them within the golden 1.5C threshold is melting as quickly as the polar ice caps. The synthesis report sets out starkly that 3 billion people live in areas that are “highly vulnerable” to climate breakdown and extreme weather is “increasingly driving displacement” of people in Africa, Asia, the Americas and South Pacific – conditions that are likely quickly to spiral out of control if global heating is not reined in.
The IPCC made plain the connection between the damage humans were doing to the planet with activities such as industrial meat production, including clear-felling forests such as the Amazon, a vital carbon sink, to make way for vast livestock farms, way back in 1995. It also underlined what an incomprehensible act of self-sabotage it was, writing in a report that year: “Climate change is likely to have wide-ranging and mostly adverse impacts on human health, with significant loss of life.”
IPCC chairman Hoesung Lee reiterated that hope was not lost, however – provided politicians and business leaders pay attention at last to the panel’s warnings and act with alacrity. “This synthesis report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all,” he said. US climate envoy John Kerry added that the IPCC’s message was “abundantly clear: we are making progress, but not enough. We have the tools to stave off and reduce the risks of the worst impacts of the climate crisis but we must take advantage of this moment and act now.”
One of the best ways all of us can make a difference is to change the way we eat for the greener. As the environmental group Greenpeace observes in a handy explainer on the IPCC report, the scientists conclude that certain “demand-side measures” – action taken by citizens and society – can help cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70 per cent compared with baseline scenarios. And one of those with the greatest potential is the shift towards “‘balanced sustainable healthy diets” – meaning low or no meat.
So rather than be fazed or dismayed by the IPCC’s findings, take this as a wake-up call. There is time to make a change, for animals, people and planet, and it starts with the food on our plates.