On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the final report of its sixth assessment cycle. The synthesis report underscores what the United Nations panel of climate scientists has already shared: greenhouse gas emissions have transformed the planet, and governments must prioritize equity in their response to avoid irreversible damage and suffering. The report leaves us with an urgent message: “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” With this report’s release, the IPCC bids us farewell. We won’t hear from the panel for at least a few years.
Since the IPCC released its first report over 30 years ago in 1990, its following assessment reports have published in cycles of about five to eight years. These massive analyses—thousands of pages that leading global scientists have put together to gauge the state of the world’s climate science—take time. In between cycles, the IPCC does release special reports. Remember the 2018 report that changed, well, everything? It stressed that leaders have until 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious goals, which would protect the globe’s most vulnerable. We may have to wait a few years, however, before we even see another special report.
Per the IPCC, we’ve got seven years to cut emissions by half to prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. Past that point, sea level rise and heat waves reach new threat levels, especially for island nations and tropical countries. With that timeline in mind, there’s a lot to do until the next assessment report. By then, we will know whether our leaders listened. We will know if they failed. Luckily, the IPCC has laid out pretty clearly what needs to happen.
“These reports are really important in pointing out the road that we’re on and giving us as advocates and policymakers the tools we need to push governments to confront the climate crisis at the scale that we need to,” said Adrien Salazar, policy director for the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, which is made up of over 60 groups that are working toward community-led climate solutions.
For one, the IPCC directs leaders to make immediate “deep reductions” in greenhouse gas emissions, including methane and carbon dioxide. We need to see net-zero emissions at the very least: where the greenhouse gas emissions released are offset by carbon removal strategies. However, both nature- and tech-based carbon removals are imperfect and, quite frankly, impractical given the ticking climate bomb we face.
“If you want to stop something from happening again, you have to address the root causes.”
Though the IPCC doesn’t explicitly call for an end to fossil fuels, the report does mention a few times the need to move away and stop subsidizing them to meet the Paris Agreement targets: “Cumulative carbon emissions until the time of reaching net-zero [carbon dioxide] emissions and the level of greenhouse gas emission reductions this decade largely determine whether warming can be limited to 1.5 [degrees Celsius] or 2 [degrees Celsius] … Projected [carbon dioxide] emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure without additional abatement would exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5 [degrees Celsius].”
More importantly, perhaps, climate policies require inclusive governance, accountability measures, and cooperation among various players, according to the IPCC. Accountability should include the private sector, said Julia Jeanty, the senior policy manager at the progressive think tank Data for Progress.
The IPCC emphasized in this report that a lens on social inequities is key, especially to ensure countries in the Global South can invest in clean energy and climate resiliency projects. As ugly as the climate crisis is, the emergency offers a rare opportunity to take a new path: one where corporations don’t pillage nature for profit and where governments invest in healthy and safe communities.
“If you want to stop something from happening again, you have to address the root causes,” said Rhiana Gunn-Wright, Green New Deal mastermind and climate policy director at the Roosevelt Institute, a think tank dedicated to fostering a democratic economy.
Among the IPCC’s recommendations are improved mental health care and policies to redistribute wealth. Many suggestions align with the Green New Deal policy framework that almost took off in the U.S. Though no federal law by that name has yet to pass in the U.S., it’s a different story for cities and states. The IPCC’s final report reminds us that the best way forward is by building a world where societies can transition off fossil fuels and develop clean energy economies without exacerbating their present-day struggles and inequities.
“Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee in a press release.
“We have to continue to uplift the intersections of these issues, which is what the Green New Deal is about.”
The Green New Deal has always been about making the best out of a truly awful thing—climate change—by identifying ways to reduce poverty, improve health care, expand affordable housing, and clean up pollution alongside emissions reductions. The climate movement reached a new level of power in 2018 when youth activists stormed Congress, calling for a Green New Deal.
“We can thank the Green New Deal, at the very minimum, for catalyzing the modern-day climate movement in a really tangible way,” Jeanty said.
Unfortunately, the movement has a lot of work to do in the months and years ahead. Last week, President Joe Biden approved the Willow project, a giant oil project in Alaska that would add the same amount of emissions as if the government had approved some 70 coal-fired power plants. Environmental groups have already sued—not out of their own interest (as many media outlets have described their response) but out of concern for global public health. This latest action only underscores how much work remains and how much the public needs something like a Green New Deal. Advocates haven’t given up.
“The fight to win a Green New Deal isn’t over even as the ‘moment’ of the Green New Deal launching into the mainstream spotlight has passed,” Salazar said. “We have to continue to uplift the intersections of these issues, which is what the Green New Deal is about.”
The landmark Inflation Reduction Act Biden passed last year is covered with the “pretty significant fingerprints of the Green New Deal,” Jeanty said. It invests in clean energy and features provisions for low-income households—but it also mandates further oil and gas extraction. Despite a growing solar market, governments and companies refuse to abandon fossil fuels. In East Africa, a crude oil pipeline is under construction. All these carbon emissions will only worsen the outcomes presented by the IPCC.
The IPCC’s voice of reason will be missed until it’s back. “It’s scary,” Gunn-Wright said of not hearing from the panel for a while. “I am nervous about a body like that not weighing in [over] the next two years.”
Until we hear again from the IPCC, advocates won’t stop fighting. After all, it’s thanks to their decades of work that we’ve even reached this point. Let’s not forget what they have accomplished. A U.N. body called out colonialism’s role in creating climate change. The world’s wealthiest government passed an imperfect though monumental climate law.
“It continues to be massively important that our grassroots climate justice movements keep organizing and pushing and demonstrating and engaging in these processes to push for real policy that attempts to dismantle the political power of fossil fuels,” Salazar said. “Fighting for climate justice is an exercise in optimism and radical hope that we can actually win and not only survive these crises but thrive through them.”