Do we need an IPCC special report for humans?

The latest IPCC report, entitled Global Warming of 1.5C, is a special report for policy makers. It is a terrifyingly detailed and specific depiction of the foreseeable impacts of climate change if we overshoot the 1.5C target agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement. That is, of course, for the few among us with the time to unpick the true meaning behind the carefully chosen and debated scientific and political language.

In debating the report with a colleague, he remarked “it’s basically telling us we are doomed, and in a pretty short amount of time.”

This blunt summary was so remarkably refreshing, after having invested the afternoon deciphering and contemplating the meaning behind the carefully chosen words of the IPCC 1.5 report. It led me to wonder whether the time is right to produce a special report for humans. One that better illustrates what a transition to a zero carbon economy really means for the day-to-day lives of humans, of all of us.

A special report that is less spreadsheet and jargon, more family and hugs.

For decades climate change has been discussed and debated through the lens of science and multi-lateral policy making. It’s a conversation that is heavily laden with unique, specialist terms and probabilistic statements. Use of language such as non-linear system collapses, complex systems transformations, and economic trade-offs may well be accurate but it doesn’t immediately connect and resonate. None of these words mean very much unless you happen to have already spent the past decade and more thinking about climate change.

I’m increasingly conscious that the language we use as a climate community is so remarkably detached from the language we use at home around the kitchen table – with our families and friends who we work so hard to care for and protect – that it encroaches on the absurd.

So how can we share what the IPCC report is telling us, in a way that works around the kitchen table? Or perhaps even the Ryanair boardroom table? Or the Board of Trustees of major pension funds?

Can we make climate change more tangible, more illustrative and more connected and try to provoke an honest human-to-human conversation about what this really means for you and I?

If we are indeed to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050, or perhaps more wisely by 2035 as far as Europe is concerned[1], then we need our families and colleagues to be fully on board with both the scale of the challenge and the fundamental change that this entails for almost every part of our life.

For this to happen we need to reframe the conversation from a global debate and negotiation between policy-makers, to a discussion around the kitchen table  that is brutally honest about the situation we are in.

As Professor Jem Bendell at the University of Cumbria recently noted, “in a supportive environment, where we have enjoyed community with each other, enjoying nature before looking at this information and possible framings for it, something positive happens. I have witnessed a shedding of concern for conforming to the status quo, and a new creativity about what to focus on going forward”[2]. In other words, a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning, and the shared inspiration to join together with other humans to break the paralysis and “muster the full force of human ingenuity to the challenge”[3].

The global climate system is complex, so too are the economic, financial and governance systems that we overlay upon it. But within all of these systems are humans. Every day people who go to work, read the news and hope to enjoy a meal and a chat with their family in the evening. All of these systems are now in grave peril, and so too the humans within them. And yet here were are with emissions continuing to increase, rather than on the steep downward trajectory that we know is required.

So in the weeks ahead you might discuss the IPCC report with your colleagues, acquaintances and families. I would suggest to take the time to imagine the future together. What does it mean when every coal mine town has no jobs in five years’ time? What does it mean when in ten years’ time if no airlines can fly over Europe? How do we feed our families if there’s an extended drought which causes mass crop failure? What is the point of putting away money into a pension fund if that fund is investing in a way that just makes things worse? And what are we going to do about it?

Through this human conversation perhaps we can take the abstract, and make it real. One would hope this would help more humans to ditch their spreadsheets and their despair and start positively working together to sort this out. We need to get to net-zero, and we need to get there really fast – agreements and policy are vital, but billions of people getting stuck in and doing what we do best, being human, making mistakes but together finding a way through even the most difficult of challenges. And make no mistake, keeping warming below 1.5° C is the most difficult of all challenges that we face.

Do we need an IPCC special report for humans? The answer is yes.

[1] Some European cities, sectors and businesses have already made commitments and published detailed plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2035, including Helsinki: https://inhabitat.com/helsinki-unveils-plan-to-reach-carbon-neutrality-by-2035/

[2] https://www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsi5Vp_6tdE

 

 
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