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boat protest

Ocean Rebellion staged a theatrical action ahead of the G7 summit at Marazion beach, Cornwall, United Kingdom on June 5, 2021. (Photo: Gav Goulder/In Pictures via Getty Images)

'Not a Report to Despair Over': IPCC Gives Humanity Clear Directive to Act Boldly and Urgently

"We have the solutions to prevent further harm to people and the planet—it's time to implement them," says "We must start by putting an immediate end to fossil fuels."

Jessica Corbett

As the climate movement vowed Monday to "rise up" after a new United Nations report signaled a "code red for humanity," activists and experts highlighted the specific policies and actions that decision-makers must now take to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of "unprecedented" global heating—particularly a prompt end to fossil fuels.

"The exigency of this situation must not lead us to despair, rather it should propel us into action."
—Mary Robinson, The Elders

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the the physical science of the human-caused climate emergency—which comes during a summer of devastating drought, fires, floods, and heatwaves—shows the world is rapidly running out of time to take the steps necessary limit global temperature rise this century to the Paris agreement's goal of 1.5°C.

"The latest IPCC report confirms what we already know: It is time to act on climate," declared Matt Casale, environment campaigns director at U.S. PIRG. "We're already seeing the impacts of global warming, and they're already taking a human toll."

Noting the deadly heat that struck the Pacific Northwest earlier this year and mounting fears about the destruction this Atlantic hurricane season could bring, Casale said that "as the new IPCC report makes clear, these events will only get worse if we fail to act."

"But as bad as it might sound, this is not a report to despair over. Because while the consequences of inaction would be catastrophic, there is no reason we still can't avoid the worst of it," he added. "The solutions are at our fingertips."

Morgan Folger, Environment America's Destination: Zero Carbon campaign director, echoed Casale's call for focusing on known solutions.

"There is no single act that will save the world from climate change, but working together we can spark shifts across our society that will reduce harmful planet-warming pollution and help us lead healthier lives," she said. "Rather than despairing over what we could lose, let's focus on what we stand to gain by getting to work for a better future."

Though there isn't a quick fix for driving down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the degree that scientists say is necessary, there is widespread agreement that a rapid shift away from fossil fuels is the most significant step the world can take to save lives and ensure a habitable planet.

As the advocacy group put it in a tweet about the IPCC's latest findings: "We have the solutions to prevent further harm to people and the planet—it's time to implement them. We must start by putting an immediate end to fossil fuels."

Ending the extraction and use of fossil fuels means transitioning more than just global power systems. Casale explained that "we have to end our reliance on fossil fuels and transition to clean renewable energy, electrified transportation systems, and carbon-free buildings."

That kind of transformation requires ambitious, coordinated global action.

The IPCC report is the first of a three-part assessment, and the only piece that will be finalized before parties to the Paris agreement come together in Glasgow, Scotland beginning October 31 for the two-week U.N. climate summit known as COP 26.

"This is a rallying cry," Mim Black from the civil society COP 26 Coalition said of the report. "This November, the people will be out in force. We will challenge governments' and corporations' green rhetoric, empty promises, and downright hypocrisy. Thousands will take to the streets in Glasgow and across the world to demand urgent and meaningful action is finally taken, which holds big polluters to account while looking after those least responsible for this crisis."

350 Africa, in a statement, addressed the latest inadequate emissions reduction plans that governments have unveiled ahead of the summit:

The IPCC are showing us that the midcentury net-zero pledges being loudly celebrated by governments, businesses, and oil companies are not going to be enough to change this trajectory. We need decisive action within this decade, if we want to have a chance to keep the planet from warming above 1.5°C. 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.

As governments prepare to meet in Glasgow for the COP 26 climate talks, they need to recognize that no climate plan that does not include phasing out fossil fuels is a real climate plan.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, pointed out that just 110 of 191 parties to Paris have submitted new or updated pledges, officially nationally determined contributions (NDCs). She also emphasized the need to go beyond ending fossil fuels.

"Governments need to make their net-zero plans an integral part of their Paris commitments," Andersen said. "They must finance and support developing countries to adapt to climate change, as promised in the Paris agreement. They must decarbonize faster. Restore natural systems that draw down carbon. Cut out methane and other greenhouse gases faster. Get behind the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to cut the climate impact of the cooling industry. And every business, every investor, every citizen needs to play their part."

"Leaders must show they understand the seriousness of the science and turn in stronger national commitments ahead of the COP 26 climate talks this November," said Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders and former Irish president. "The big question leaders must reckon with in Glasgow is whether these plans add up to what is needed—and if not, how they will close the remaining gap."

"The exigency of this situation must not lead us to despair, rather it should propel us into action," she added. "To those who seek to argue that it's too hard, or too late, and so not worth trying—the report is a reminder that every fraction of a degree of warming really does matter."

While expressing hope that "COP 26 delivers the necessary commitments to protect our rights and our planet from climate catastrophe," EarthRights International executive director Ka Hsaw Wa highlighted that the report was released on International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples and confirms "what Indigenous and frontline communities experiencing the worst effects of the climate crisis have been telling the world for years."

"From land grabs in Latin America and Southeast Asia to the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota," he also said, "we see fossil fuel projects continuing to undermine human rights worldwide, particularly those of Indigenous and ethnic minority communities."

Ka Hsaw Wa implored U.S. President Joe Biden "to take this moment to realize the United States' significant contributions to the climate crisis and reassess our addiction to fossil fuels and unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure projects." He further called on the president "to reject Line 3 and any provisions in the new infrastructure bill that would allow fossil fuel corporations to access millions of dollars in subsidies."

"The latest IPCC report confirms what communities on the frontlines of fighting big polluters already know," said Miya Yoshitani, executive director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

Yoshitani, who also serves on the Climate Justice Alliance board and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, explained that "we need bold, community-led solutions that meet the scale of the climate crisis, not failed market-based schemes that allow big polluters to pump more poison into our communities and further destabilize our climate."

Implementing such solutions—as Jill Tauber, Earthjustice's vice president of litigation for climate and energy, noted Monday—requires legislative action.

"President Biden, Congress, and leaders at every level must take bold action now to move towards a zero-emissions and 100% clean energy economy that works for everyone," Tauber said. "That means passing legislation that centers environmental justice, cleans up pollution, and invests in climate solutions. We must put an end to dangerous fossil fuel projects that threaten communities and lock us into decades of more greenhouse gas emissions."

The report comes as the White House and Congress are working on both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a broader $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that Democrats plan to send to Biden's desk without any Republican support.

"This latest IPCC report must be a wake-up call for Biden and Congress that the half measures they've proposed are not nearly enough to end the climate crisis," Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said in a statement.

"In the coming months, Biden and Congress have the chance to pass historic legislation that could begin the decade of the Green New Deal. If Biden really wants to be a world leader on climate, he'll heed this call and pass the boldest reconciliation bill possible," she added. "Anything less than delivering the full scope of climate action in reconciliation is ignoring science, ignoring the IPCC report, and failing our generation."

The movement calls for a reconciliation package that includes a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps (CCC); significant spending on public housing, schools, transit, and renewable energy; worker protections from the PRO Act; major investments in frontline communities; and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

As Extinction Rebellion highlighted Monday, the U.S. government isn't alone in needing to cut off subsidies to the world's polluters.

"This report tells us, in dramatic fashion, what we already know: Governments have failed thus far to do much of anything to address climate change," asserted Food & Water Watch policy director Mitch Jones, who specifically took aim at the Biden administration and Congress.

"Our political leaders must immediately demonstrate that they are serious by working to enact policies that stop all forms of fossil fuel extraction while making massive, necessary investments in clean, renewable energy," he said. "Inadequate technologies like carbon capture and net-zero accounting gimmicks are not going to cut it."

Pointing out that the report flags "the immense damage currently being done to our climate by methane emissions, most notably from oil and gas fracking," Jones added that the current U.S. administration "could immediately show its commitment to taking this crisis seriously by halting approval for any new fracking on federal lands—a pledge made during the campaign that Biden has yet to make good on."

Some politicians also responded to the IPCC report by calling out the U.S. government for inadequate action on the climate emergency.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—a leader on key progressive climate legislation including the Green New Deal Resolution, a CCC bill, and the THRIVE Actdeclared that "if senators truly followed the science in this report, we'd have 100 votes for climate action to match the 100% certainty that human-caused climate change is destroying our planet."

"This IPCC report reaffirms what we are seeing and suffering right now across our country," he said. "Previous IPCC reports should have been roadmaps for action... This report must be the final warning to the world that time has run out to save the planet from dangerous and irreversible climate change."

"With that said, we can't agonize—we must organize, just like the young people across the country and world who are demanding action from their leaders," Markey added. "With policies to drive deep cuts in emissions, protect communities from climate impacts, and provide equity and justice to overburdened communities, we can respond to overwhelming evidence and take the necessary action to save our people and our planet."

This post has been updated with the IPCC's proper name.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

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