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IPCC meet in Switzerland

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN-backed scientific body whose periodic assessments of climate science form the basis of global climate action, is set to finalise what is known as the Synthesis Report.

The IPCC, a UN-backed scientific body whose periodic assessments of climate science form the basis of global climate action, is set to finalise what is known as the Synthesis Report, incorporating the findings of the five reports that it has released in the sixth assessment cycle since 2018.

The Synthesis Report is supposed to be a relatively non-technical summary of the previous reports, aimed largely at policymakers around the world. It is meant to address a wide range of policy-relevant scientific questions related to climate change, but, like all IPCC reports, in a non-prescriptive manner.

This will bring an end to the Sixth Assessment Report, a collective work of thousands of scientists over a period of eight years, starting in February 2015.

The Synthesis Report is unlikely to reveal anything new. Climate science is fairly well established, and its impacts already visible. As part of the sixth assessment cycle, the IPCC published three comprehensive reports — one on scientific evidence for climate change, the other on impacts and vulnerabilities, and the third exploring mitigation options available. Besides these, special reports on the feasibility of keeping global temperature rise within the 1.5 degree Celsius limit, and the connections between land, ocean and cryosphere, were also released.

Together, these form the most comprehensive understanding of the earth’s climate system, the changes it is undergoing, the repercussions of these changes, and the actions that should to be taken to avoid the worst impacts.

Whatever was needed to be said about the threat being posed to the planet by climate change has already been said in these reports. And yet, finalisation of the Synthesis Report is unlikely to be a straightforward exercise. Apart from the complexity of condensing the voluminous information contained in the earlier reports, authors have to accommodate the concerns of governments and civil society groups. There is likely to be a lot of wrangling over language and the emphasis put on certain phrases, much like the negotiations at the annual climate change conferences every year.

The first report of this cycle, the one on 1.5 degree temperature limit, had come out in 2018. In the five years since then, a lot more evidence on the pressing need to stick to the 1.5 degree Celsius target has presented itself. In fact, as measurements by the World Meteorological Organisation show, average annual temperatures have already gone above 1.2 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times, and a breach of the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, even if temporary, is a real possibility in just the next five years. The Synthesis Report, therefore, is expected to emphasise on meeting the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold as the main global goal, unlike the Paris Agreement, that seeks to restrict temperature rise to below 2 degree Celsius.

However, it is in terms of climate action that countries have been found wanting despite repeated predictions of an impending catastrophe. The current level of actions is not even commensurate to the effort required to meet the 2 degree Celsius target. There is disagreement even on something as basic as a commitment to phase out fossil fuels, one of the main contributors to global warming. Recent media reports have suggested that Europe might be getting ready to change that, and push for a global commitment to phase out the use of “unabated” fossil fuels by 2050. But this can very well end up remaining one of the contested discussions at the climate meetings.


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