Why climate science is essential to protect people and the planet

This week, scientists and representatives from 195 countries gather at the 54e Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) session to consider the world’s most comprehensive assessment of our climate – the Sixth Assessment Report. IPCC reports have historically supported global climate action and influenced decisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We caught up with Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), to learn more about the role of climate science in decision making and what can be done to prioritize it. climate action to protect people and the planet.

Given that the world is still struggling with a global pandemic, how urgent is the issue of climate change?

Extreme weather conditions are the new normal. From Germany to China, Canada or the United States – forest fires, floods, extreme heat waves – it’s a tragic and ever-growing list.

And while the climate crisis – along with biodiversity loss and pollution – has been going on for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this triple planetary crisis. It’s a warning to the planet that much worse awaits us if we don’t change our ways. These crises threaten our collective future and it is time to act.

With countries investing unprecedented amounts of resources to jumpstart the global economy, we must recover in a way that is safe, sustainable and does not exacerbate the challenges we already face.

Is there a link between environmental degradation and pandemics like COVID-19?

Studies report that the majority (around 60%) of emerging infectious diseases are of animal origin and, like COVID-19, can be transferred between animals and humans. As the world’s population approaches 8 billion, land use change and development are bringing humans and animals into closer contact, making it easier to spread zoonotic diseases in human populations. This happens when habitats are destroyed and species specializing in those habitats are replaced by generalist species like bats and rodents – both of which are more likely to carry zoonotic pathogens than most other groups of people. mammals – thus increasing the risk of zoonotic overflow. This is because current disease host species are less available and therefore allow diseases to spread to other species and, in turn, to humans. Over the past 50 years, meat production has also increased by 260%, and today dams, irrigation and factory farms are linked to 25% of infectious diseases.

The pandemic is a reminder of the interdependence between man and the environment, and the potential impacts of the transfer of diseases between species – the risk of which is considerably increased with environmental degradation.

How does the IPCC contribute to our collective efforts to fight climate change?

Fundamentally, the role of the Expert Panel is to establish what we know about climate change – to provide the scientific basis for decision-making, policy-making and international negotiations. For this reason, all IPCC publications represent a rigorous process of the global scientific community.

Previous IPCC assessments have helped establish human actions as a cause of global warming, pave the way for the historic Paris Climate Agreement and secure a commitment to limit rising temperatures. Countries are also looking to IPCC reports for advice on developing their national ambitions. For example, the IPCC has made it clear that every country in the world must step up and develop a plan to achieve a net zero future.

What do we need to know about the Sixth Assessment Report currently under review?

The IPCC report is a tool for understanding past warming – how and why it happened, and for developing future projections, including a better understanding of how human actions have influenced extreme climate events. The first installment of the full report to be released next month represents the largest collaborative effort to date, with 234 authors, information from 14,000 scientific articles and reviews by 750 experts and 47 governments.

The report will give us a better understanding of extreme weather events and the impacts of COVID-19 on climate change and air pollution. It will provide the momentum we need to galvanize global actions as we head to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in October. And it will give us the science we need to inform the first global stocktake of the world’s collective progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement goals in 2023.

A working group is now meeting to review each line of the full report before its final approval by the IPCC.

Is it too late for human actions to slow the trajectory of climate change?

A growing number of countries are committing to achieving net zero targets. But to stay within the 2 ° C limit and have a chance of reaching the 1.5 ° C target, commitments must translate into policies and actions.

It is not too late but we must make up for lost time, particularly in three areas. First, we need to put in place finance for adaptation. Second, we need to put more emphasis on nature-based solutions in the updated Nationally Determined Contributions. Third, we must unite the nature and climate agendas.

We know that developing countries often bear the disproportionate burden of climate change. As countries roll out COVID-19 stimulus and stimulus packages, we have a golden opportunity to chart a sustainable future. UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2020 found that investing in a green recovery from a pandemic could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030.

UNEP is supporting a landmark initiative agreed by environment ministers from 54 African countries in December 2020 to support a comprehensive green recovery plan for COVID-19.

The African Green Stimulus program will integrate environmental considerations into all facets of African economies. UNEP is also pleased to note that every country on the continent already has or is in the process of developing a national adaptation plan.

Adaptation is essential to strengthen the resilience of communities and economies to the impacts of climate change.

Indeed, 2021 will be a pivotal year for climate action. This is when much of the work to define our post-pandemic course takes place. This is the year of the postponement of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). This is the year to agree on a global framework for post-2020 biodiversity. And this is the start of the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration.

2021 must mark the beginning of the era of action. And this must be the year when science reigns supreme.

UN Environment

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