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Climate protest

Participants display placards during a demonstration as a part of the "Fridays for Future" movement in New Delhi on September 25, 2020. (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images)

Climate Movement Says 'Apocalyptic' IPCC Report Signals 'Moment to Rise Up'

"It's way past time for policymakers to translate this stark warning into action."

Jake Johnson

Climate activists didn't need yet another report to tell them that continued inaction in the face of accelerating global warming would be catastrophic—the evidence is plain for all to see.

But the Monday release of a U.N. panel's detailed assessment of the latest science offered a fresh opportunity for climate campaigners to ramp up pressure on world governments to completely end their reliance on and devotion to fossil fuels before it's too late. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that moment is fast approaching.

"Never forget that we had all the scientific evidence we needed to act on global warming over 40 years ago... Global warming isn't a tragedy, it's a crime."
—Jamie Henn, Fossil Free Media

"The new IPCC report contains no real surprises," said Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who in 2018 kicked off the worldwide Fridays for Future movement. "It confirms what we already know from thousands previous studies and reports—that we are in an emergency."

"It is up to us to be brave and take decisions based on the scientific evidence provided in these reports," Thunberg added. "We can still avoid the worst consequences, but not if we continue like today, and not without treating the crisis like a crisis."

Compiled by a team of more than 200 scientists, the IPCC report offers a dire analysis of the impacts that humanity's persistent burning of fossils fuels have had on the climate, which is warming at a rate not seen in at least 2,000 years, leading to ever more intense extreme weather events such as devastating wildfires, flooding, and drought.

The panel made clear that some of the most devastating consequences of human-caused global warming—specifically the melting of ice sheets and rising sea levels—are now irreversible.

However, the group of leading scientists emphasized that there is still a window for effective action—albeit a rapidly closing one.

"Strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change," the report notes. "Human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of climate."

Such a conclusion is hardly novel to environmentalists who, for decades, have been vocally demanding that policymakers take steps to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions and urgently move to a sustainable renewable energy system.

Kaisa Kosonen, senior political adviser at Greenpeace Nordic, said in a statement Monday that the unveiling of the IPCC report marks "a decisive moment for humanity."

"With solar and wind now the cheapest way to produce new power in the majority of the world, mobility freed from oil, and finance dwindling for coal, a world free of fossil fuels is becoming possible," said Kosonen, who told The Guardian that Greenpeace intends to use the IPCC analysis as evidence in lawsuits against governments and corporations that continue to obstruct necessary change.

"This is the moment to rise up, be bold, and think big," Kosonen added. "We all need to accelerate the green transition while ensuring justice and protection for local communities and people paying the highest cost for climate inaction."

The youth-led Sunrise Movement, whose grassroots advocacy work helped push the vision of a Green New Deal to the national stage in the United States, said in a statement Monday that the IPCC report is "apocalyptic, catastrophic, and nothing we haven't been screaming from the rooftops for years."

"No climate plan that does not include phasing out fossil fuels is a real climate plan."

"We're already living it," said Varshini Prakash, Sunrise's executive director. "Fires are burning forests the size of U.S. states. Buildings are collapsing into the sea. Power is getting shut off as hundreds die from heat waves. And that's all from the last few months alone. What more do our politicians need to realize the climate crisis is here and they're not doing enough?"

"In the coming months, [U.S. President Joe] Biden and Congress have the chance to pass historic legislation that could begin the decade of the Green New Deal," Prakash continued. "The IPCC report is clear—the stakes are high and we're running out of time. Anything less than delivering the full scope of climate action in reconciliation is ignoring science, ignoring the IPCC report, and failing our generation."

The IPCC's latest report dropped just weeks ahead of the November COP26 conference in Glasgow, which climate advocates believe is a make-or-break chance for world leaders to bring their badly inadequate climate commitments into line with the deeply alarming scientific evidence.

"This cannot be another lost opportunity," said Dr. Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at Union of Concerned Scientists. "Richer nations—whose emissions are the predominant cause of global warming impacts being experienced around the world—must take responsibility for making rapid and deep emissions cuts and provide financial support so developing countries can make a low-carbon transition too."

"It's way past time for policymakers to translate this stark warning into action," Cleetus added.

According to the IPCC analysis, the central objective of the 2015 Paris climate accord—limiting global warming to 1.5°C in this century—will soon "be beyond reach" unless "there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions."

The only way to achieve such massive reductions, climate campaigners and experts said Monday, is to quickly stop burning fossil fuels and begin a just transition to renewable energy—a move that proponents argue would create millions of jobs and save tens of millions of lives.

But since the Paris Agreement was finalized in 2015, wealthy nations have continued to pour funds into the polluting oil and gas industry while falling short of their emissions targets. According to one recent analysis, G20 nations have provided $3.3 trillion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry since 2015.

"Today's report shows that we must urgently phase out fossil fuels, provide workers with green and sustainable jobs, and deliver financial support for impacted communities as a top priority," the advocacy group said in a statement responding to the IPCC findings. "As governments prepare to meet in Glasgow for the COP26 climate talks, they need to recognize that no climate plan that does not include phasing out fossil fuels is a real climate plan."

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