Analysis |

Humanity Gets a Failing Grade on the Climate Crisis

A new UN climate report provides ready solutions for solving climate change, but is just as grim as its predecessors

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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A climate justice protest in Indonesia, last month.
A climate justice protest in Indonesia, last month.Credit: WILLY KURNIAWAN / Reuters
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published two grim reports since last August, presenting a frightening picture of the global climate.

The August report lays the most up-to-date scientific groundwork, stating that humanity has missed the opportunity to prevent global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, the threshold that has become the official goal of the international fight against climate change since the Paris Accord in 2015.

The IPCC published its second report in February, detailing the dangers of the crisis. This report stated that the implications of the crisis are even worse than scientists had previously anticipated, and that one in every two people living on Earth is living in an area that will be greatly affected by climate change.

The dangers include heatwaves, extreme weather events, disease, lack of water and food, refugees crises and other risks.

Wind turbines turn behind a solar farm in Rapshagen, Germany, in October.Credit: Michael Sohn/ AP

A new report, published on Monday, was expected to be more optimistic, offering solutions to the crisis – means at the disposal of governments to avoid the catastrophes outlined in the previous two reports. But in the end, that report is no less gloomy than its predecessors.

The authors of the report scrutinized what has been done so far. It turns out that despite the commissions, promises, emergency climate laws, technological developments and international awareness, humanity has received a failing grade in dealing with the climate crisis.

What's more, the student is not realizing their true potential. The technologies exist, are cheap and available and the solutions are at hand (the cost of solar and wind energy has decreased by 85 percent, according to the report). Things are changing for the better in most sectors, but the rate of change is too slow to stop the crisis.

At the end of the report, two graphs examine just how serious we are about the impending disaster. The first shows the concentration of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere. For 800,000 years, this graph has gone up and down, but has always remained below 300 parts per million.

In the past 10,000 years, the period in which all the cities and villages in the world were founded, the line remains nearly straight. And then, in the 1950s, it skyrockets, far beyond the 300 – and beyond 400 – parts per million. Last week, Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the Greenwich of world carbon, registered 417 parts per million.

The second graph, which shows greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, explains the first. For the past 50 years, the quantities of greenhouse gas emissions, from electricity production, agriculture, transportation and other sources, has risen exponentially, almost every year.

Credit: IPCC Report

The spike continued in the 1980s, despite warnings by scientists, and into the 1990s and 2000s as well. Only in the past few years has a sliver of hope appeared at the end of the graph. While in 2021 emissions broke all records, it seems that the insanity of burning fuels millions of years old for the sake of short-term economic growth has halted.

The problem is that this halt is not nearly enough. To prevent disaster, we also need to stop the rise in the first graph: the quantity of carbon in the atmosphere.

To do this, it’s not enough to slow down the second graph. We must flatten the curve – the motto of the COVID pandemic. It’s not enough to replace carbon with natural gas or a car that runs on fuel to a hybrid vehicle. There has to be a change in our lifestyle and our understanding of the connection between ecosystems and welfare and quality of life.

Those who are seeking a little hope can find it in the abundance of solutions we have at our disposal, which are presented in the report: replacing energy sources, shifting toward public transportation and making those vehicles electric, agricultural and nutritional reforms and more.

Some of the changes will require altering our lifestyles and unprecedented government regulations. The revolution that the climate crisis requires should lead us to breathe cleaner air, eat more nutritious food and live a healthier lifestyle surrounded by protected and thriving natural areas.

The problem is that to make this revolution a reality, powerful political and economic apparatuses must be dismantled, and meanwhile they show no signs of surrendering to the pressure.

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