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‘Inaction and delays are not options’ – scientists will paint a dire picture in crucial climate report

Despite warning after warning, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, as does global temperature


Heatwaves linked by scientists to climate change have caused devastating wildfires around the world, such as this one in Greece. Photo: Getty

Heatwaves linked by scientists to climate change have caused devastating wildfires around the world, such as this one in Greece. Photo: Getty

Heatwaves linked by scientists to climate change have caused devastating wildfires around the world, such as this one in Greece. Photo: Getty

Holed up in a hotel in a Swiss valley for the last week, a team of scientists have been trying to agree the wording to tell the world what it doesn’t want to hear.

The 14 women and 25 men from 23 countries are climatologists. They are experts in atmospheric physics, geography, meteorology, biology, environmental science and many other disciplines.

They work on their subject from the perspective of how it influences and is affected by climate change.

Pooling their expertise, they are trying to synopsise how human behaviour is, and will be, affected by climate change.

The group is part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), of which 195 countries are members.

The wider panel has produced six major reports in the last five years, looking at the science of climate change, its impact and “mitigation pathways” – or actions that could slow and stop it.

The small group bunkered down in Interlaken in central Switzerland are the core writing team, which includes Professor Peter Thorne of Maynooth University.

They have the task of drawing together the key findings from the six reports and updating them for a “synthesis report”.

Their draft synthesis has already been circulated to all 195 member states for approval. This week, they have been putting the final touches to it and preparing the all-important “summary for policymakers”, which will distil the key points even further.

That means reducing to just a few pages the tens of thousands of research papers that collectively formed the six earlier reports.

It is a cumbersome, complex process, and given that we’ve already had the six reports with findings approved by world leaders, it is reasonable to ask why a synthesis, and all the palaver that will accompany its publication on Monday, is necessary at all. So here are some answers.

It’s necessary because world leaders, while accepting the reports, have not acted on them, except in a minimal way.

It’s necessary because of the fade factor. The first of the six reports was published in 2018, a lifetime ago in political spheres. The last two were published in February and April last year, when war in Ukraine and the accompanying global energy and cost-of-living crises dominated agendas, depriving climate action of attention.

It’s necessary because, since 2018, greenhouse gas emissions have increased, global temperature has risen and climate change has intensified.

We have had some of the warmest years on record, with extreme weather events ranging from heat domes to bomb cyclones, extraordinary deluges, devastating wildfires, and brutal drought that has rendered large parts of East Africa no longer habitable.

It’s necessary because all this has happened at 1.2C of warming above pre-industrial levels. We’re on track to hit 1.5 degrees at some time in the next decade.

At 1.5 degrees, the chance of reining in runaway climate change drops dramatically. Additionally, the temperature rise “locked in” to our warm- ing seas will continue to wreak havoc long after anyone alive today is gone, and the possibility of an escalation through sudden glacier break-up increases.

At the opening of the gathering in Interlaken, IPCC chair Hoesung Lee delivered some fighting talk.

“Once approved, the synthesis report will become a fundamental policy document for shaping climate action in the remainder of this pivotal decade,” he said.

“Make no mistake – inaction and delays are not listed as options.”

At home, Sadhbh O’Neill, co-ordinator of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, echoed those views.

“We cannot afford to let the 1.5-degree temperature threshold slip out of our grasp,” she said.

“Climate change is already catastrophic, and those fractions of degrees literally mean millions of lives in some of the poorest countries of the world.”

In Interlaken, the core writing team were up all night Thursday into Friday as the deadline for agreeing the right words to convey those messages approached.

More lengthy sessions loomed yesterday and today.

What they have to say on Monday, if heeded, should cause many more sleepless nights.

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