Since 1988, scientists have been alerting the public about the urgency of global warming and its devastating effects on the world if imminent action isn’t taken. This talk hasn’t slowed down, and despite the increase in awareness regarding climate change, we have not acted with the appropriate steps required to turn things around. And in 2023, time is running out and the time to take action has never been more dire.
Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched its latest report on the climate crisis. The AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 summarizes five years of reports on global temperature rises, fossil fuel emissions and climate impacts. It reminds the public that human activities, particularly the emission of greenhouse gas, are the number one cause of global warming. Combine human activities with the rapid changes happening in the atmosphere, ocean cryosphere and biosphere, and we are faced with widespread losses and damages to nature and people around the globe like loss of species, not enough food, increased health risks and poverty.
These findings are certainly grim, but unlike other IPCC reports of the past, this report emphasizes that there is hope. While it will certainly require the collective effort of local and global governments to take swift action, there are certain cost-effective actions we can take now to reduce GHG emissions and secure a sustainable future for all.
Let’s dive into the four most optimistic takeaways from the Climate Change 2023 report.
1. Global and political awareness of climate change is growing
Due to both an increase in media coverage and scientific research since the 1980s, there is growing global public and political awareness of climate impacts and their risks. According to The Peoples’ Climate Vote, the largest survey of public opinion on climate change ever conducted, 64% of people across 50 countries say that climate change is an emergency.
Global citizens are increasingly anxious about the state of the world and this has translated into at least 170 countries and many cities adapting climate change into their policies and planning processes. Around the world, cities are setting climate targets and have implemented pilot and local experiments that address the climate crisis.
For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is working closely with Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami and Charleston, South Carolina on a pilot project called, “Building Equitable Resilience to Extreme Heat” with the goal of helping communities pinpoint local impacts of extreme heat. As the impact of heat continues to affect the world’s most vulnerable citizens, the project intends to identify current and future heat-health risks that can be incorporated into future city planning and other heat risk reduction strategies.
Another example is The Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) which has awarded the country of Zambia a grant of USD $1.5 million to help make climate risk and resilience part of their development planning. Zambia was one of the three African countries chosen for this grant, due to its economic dependency on agriculture and natural resources. Zambia’s government plans to use the funding to work with the PPCP to strengthen early warning weather systems, integrate climate resilience into infrastructure planning and strengthen the livelihoods of farmers and natural ecosystems.
2. Positive changes in this decade would reduce projected losses in lives and ecosystems
One of the most reassuring takeaways from this year’s report is that the actions we take now will absolutely have a positive impact on our future. It’s not too late, and while climate change has unfortunately already caused devastating effects, the report assures us that if we take the right actions in this decade, we can reduce projected losses and damages for humans and ecosystems while delivering many co-benefits to air quality and health.
The report states if any of the following mitigation efforts are followed across sectors, there is high or very high confidence from scientists in generating a positive outcome. Below is an abundance of feasible and effective options for adaptation outlined in the IPCC report:
- Reliable water power systems
- Wind, solar and small-scale hydropower
- Smart-grid technologies
Industry and transport:
- Electric vehicles
- Use of circular materials like plastic, metals and natural fibers
- Use of technology to transform production processes
Cities, settlements and infrastructure
- Considering the climate change risks and impacts when designing and planning infrastructure
- Supporting public transport and active mobility
- Material substitution
- Electrification in combination with low emissions sources
Land, ocean, food and water
- Urban farming
- Land restoration
- Cooperation and inclusive decision-making with Indigenous People and local communities
Health and nutrition
- Public health programs related to climate-sensitive diseases
- Access to drinkable water
- Reducing the exposure of water and sanitation systems to flooding
- Improving access to mental healthcare
Society, livelihoods, and economics
- Disaster risk management
- Early warning systems
- Climate literacy
3. Prioritizing equity and social justice is one way to enable climate mitigation actions
Regions with developmental constraints are the ones most susceptible to climate change risks due to their high dependence on natural resources like forests, lakes and oceans – with little infrastructure or basic services to support them through climate-related disasters.
However, because of the intrinsic link between climate change and equity, the IPCC reports that we can solve two major problems at once. By integrating climate adaptation into social protection programs like cash transfers, public works programs and school lunch programs, vulnerable populations can have the financial resources, basic services and infrastructure necessary to withstand the negative consequences of natural disasters and build resiliency in their communities.
There is also an opportunity for governments to help the wealthy adapt their behavior and lifestyles to lower emission consumption and support equity. According to a 2020 report by Oxam, the richest 10% accounted for over 52% of the emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015. In order to combat this excess of emissions, governments can use taxes and bans on luxury carbon like SUVs and frequent flights, while investing in vulnerable communities.
As awareness and education about the climate crisis continue to spread, the wealthy can ideally set the tone about how the rest of the world views climate change by reducing their own carbon footprint, being supportive of climate-change-related policies and being fiscally generous.
4. It is still possible to keep global warming within the 1.5°C limit
Maybe the most significant reassurance we can take from this year’s Climate Change Synthesis Report is that there are still actionable steps we can take to reduce the odds of the world consistently reaching a 1.5°C or higher, which scientists consider the tipping point.
It will require deep GHG emission reductions in the near term and the collective cooperation of businesses across industries to do their part in combating the climate crisis. For example, the transportation and mobility industry will need to prioritize public modes of transportation and increase the number of electric vehicles on the road to cut down on emissions. Similarly, cities and public services will need to adapt the way they build cities and infrastructure so that it is more energy efficient, withstand the world’s changing climate, and plan for crises before they occur.
One major way to mitigate the threat of climate change is through the use of virtual twin technology. Providing a science-based, virtual representation of a product, process, or whole systems such as cities and territories, users across industries and sectors can test endless “What if?” scenarios and use data to make the most informed decisions for their citizens and planet. Virtual twins can also be used as a communication tool to present public projects to stakeholders and local citizens and facilitate quicker adoption and implementation. From smarter urban development to developing long-lasting, agile, and resilient buildings, the possibilities you can imagine and bring to life with virtual twin technology are limitless.
As climate change continues to pose a threat to our society, technology may just be what could save us all.