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Markku Rummukainen on the new IPCC report: "Near-term action is crucial"

Burnt tree skeletons against a foggy sky. Photo.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a synthesis report summarizing the reports of recent years. Markku Rummukainen, Sweden's contact person for the IPCC and also Professor of Climatology at the Center for Environmental and Climate Science at Lund University and a member of MERGE, answers five question about the new report.

What does the new synthesis report say?

- The Synthesis Report provides a relevant knowledge base on climate issues for countries, business, civil society and others. It clarifies that mitigation, adaptation and sustainable development actions have a wide range of synergies, which contributes to feasibility. Another important aspect is that near-term action is crucial to halting long-term warming and reducing climate-related risks, including potential tipping points.

What are the main conclusions of the synthesis report?

- Key conclusions are that climate change is accelerating and its effects are increasingly impacting humans and ecosystems. Although climate action has increased globally in recent years, it is still too slow and too limited in scope. At the same time, it is clear that possible and feasible measures exist to achieve emission reduction and adaptation - measures that have a wide range of synergies for sustainable development.

The global climate goal, which is part of the Paris Agreement, is to stop global warming at well below 2 degrees and preferably not exceed 1.5 degrees. To limit climate change in line with this target, global emissions need to start declining by 2025 and roughly halve by 2030, after which the share of carbon dioxide needs to be reduced to net zero around 2050 while other climate emissions are also reduced.

What are the most important global measures to achieve the climate goal in the short and long term? 

- These include shifting investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy, improving the efficiency of energy and material use, and reducing the demand for goods and services that contribute to high emissions. We need to turn deforestation into reforestation and ensure the protection and restoration of carbon-rich ecosystems. It is also important that we take into account climate impacts, such as how we deal with heavy rainfall, heat waves, changing cropping patterns, sea level rise and water scarcity. These actions can be facilitated by relevant policy instruments such as laws, standards, carbon prices, but also by leadership and cooperation.

What are the main barriers to implementation?

- Many measures have benefits beyond the climate issue itself. For example, efficiency improvements save nature and reduce costs, while nature-based solutions in cities also contribute to the well-being of residents. However, the obstacles are often that we have become accustomed to a certain type of society and that there are many systems today that use fossil fuels. New solutions can also have an uneven impact. A solution that is good for a majority of the population may not immediately benefit everyone, which can create resistance if the distributional effect is not taken into account.

What are the next steps for the IPCC?

- The IPCC works with so-called assessment cycles, which can be compared to work programs. Now that AR6 is completed, the focus is on AR7 - the seventh assessment. Later this year, a new chair and agency to manage the work process will be elected. It will take a couple of years to produce the first AR7 report, probably on climate change and cities.

Facts about the Synthesis Report

The synthesis report is the summary and final report of the IPCC's so-called sixth assessment cycle, AR6. It does not contain new research findings, but pulls together the threads of all the reports included in the IPCC's knowledge assessment since 2018. The conclusions come from the following reports:

How the IPCC works

Both political and scientific actors are important in the IPCC process, making it a so-called frontier organisation linking science and politics. IPCC reports are prepared by experts nominated by the governments of IPCC members. After a new draft report is received, the format is approved by member countries. Authors are then selected to write the reports based on a synthesis of existing research literature. There are several rounds of review with many researchers involved in the process of producing a new report. In some phases of the process, Member States may also review drafts and provide comments.

The summary of the reports for decision-makers is then approved line by line. During this process, government representatives are free to raise objections to the wording or content of the report, but the final decision rests with the IPCC authors. When particularly difficult issues arise, groups are formed with both authors and government representatives to try to resolve any deadlocks. Once the report is finally approved, it is officially released and published.

Source: Jasmine Livingston and Markku Rummukainen, Centre for environmental and climate research, Lund University.

Jasmine Livingstons article about the IPCC-process -