The IPCC report on climate change - responses from the A/UK network of networks


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report dropped on Monday - and its dire warnings (a great summary here) seem to have injected a lot of new energy into discussions around action to forestall, or even just to mitigate, a burning planet. The IPCC graphic below - showing what the rate of change needs to be, to get carbon emissions to zero by 2055-2060 - is probably the image of the whole report.

Yes, it’s that drastic:


So, it’s a vast topic, and we are a motley few… Therefore we’re going to use our “network of networks” - key people who have contributed to A/UK over these last 18 months - as a filtering exercise for the essential initial commentary. These taken from their Twitter accounts in the last 24 hours:

Jonathan Rowson

Head of Perspectiva, author of forthcoming The Seven Dimension of Climate Change, Twitter

It’s a rationing Issue: From a post by Manchester University’s Kevin Anderson (Twitter):

The IPCC report meticulously lays out how the serious climate impacts of 1.5°C of warming are still far less destructive than those for 2°C. Sadly, the IPCC then fails, again, to address the profound implications of reducing emissions in line with both 1.5 and 2°C. Dress it up however we may wish, climate change is ultimately a rationing issue…

The responsibility for global emissions is heavily skewed towards the lifestyles of a relatively few high emitters – professors and climate academics amongst them. Almost 50% of global carbon emissions arise from the activities of around 10% of the global population, increasing to 70% of emissions from just 20% of citizens. Impose a limit on the per-capita carbon footprint of the top 10% of global emitters, equivalent to that of an average European citizen, and global emissions could be reduced by one third in a matter of a year or two.

To genuinely reduce emissions in line with 2°C of warming requires a transformation in the productive capacity of society, reminiscent of the Marshall Plan. The labour and resources used to furnish the high-carbon lifestyles of the top 20% will need to shift rapidly to deliver a fully decarbonised energy system. No more second or very large homes, SUVs, business and first-class flights, or very high levels of consumption. Instead, our economy should be building new zero-energy houses, retrofitting existing homes, huge expansion of public transport, and a 4-fold increase in (zero-carbon) electrification.

How Do We Communicate Climate Change Better? The IPCC commissioned Climate Outreach to produce a paper which gives very clear pointers on how to do this. Here’s the paper, and here’s the introduction:

Climate science is filled with uncertainties, a notorious stumbling block for communicating with non-scientists. For some, the topic can seem abstract and intangible. For others, the abstract statistics that define the climate discourse can feel distant from their day-to-day experiences.In some nations, the issue is politically polarised; in others, the absence of a public and political discourse is the problem.

That our worldviews, values and social norms dictate how we receive information and apply it to our own lives is well understood. It has also long been recognised that the messenger is at least as important, if not more so, than the message itself. Scientists are trusted in society and there are a wealth of opportunities to engage the public around key moments in the climatechange calendar, such as the release of IPCC reports.

…It is possible to communicate climate science in a way that makes that message easier for non-scientific audiences to understand, and makes it more relevant to their lives and experiences. Connecting with your audience on the basis of shared values builds trust between the communicator and the audience. There may be no ‘magic words’ that will resonate universally, but there are better and worse ways to start a conversation about climate change; more and less effective ways to use language and narratives.

There is guidance available on talking about the link between weather and climate, and the uncertainty inherent in climate science. And even in largely ‘untested waters’ in terms of public engagement - such as talking about negative emissions technologies - there are some basic principles to keep in mind that will help ensure conversations are constructive.

Caroline Lucas

Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.

Advice for the UK Government to respond to the IPCC: these taken from a thread on Caroline’s Twitter feed, her own comments:

1: Save money and carbon by stopping actively damaging projects like fracking, airport expansion, HS2, new nuclear, road expansion - and spend it on creating hundreds of thousands of jobs through a rapid expansion of renewables

2: Save even more money and carbon, and create even more jobs by ending subsidies for fossil fuels and taxing them for the damage they cause. Spend that on reducing energy bills through huge nationwide insulation programme.

3: Clean our air and make our streets safer by boosting support for walking and cycling and building a public transport network fit for the 21st century. 

4: Overhaul agriculture to re-carbonise soil and improve its quality, massively reduce pesticide-use, and shift focus to plant foods, while incentivising people to eat less meat and dairy

5: Restore nature and biodiversity by a major programme of planting woodlands and forests, cutting use of pesticides and creating many new nature-rich green spaces for cities.

Jeremy Lent

Author of The Patterning Instinct

Charge €30 a tonne for CO2 to avoid catastrophic 4C warming: From Johan Rockstrom, scientist behind the idea of “planetary limits”. A piece in the Guardian:

New global policies are needed. One such policy would be a carbon price starting around €30 per tonne of CO2, which would very likely render investments in coal-fired plants unprofitable. Zero-carbon mobility, such as electric cars, could then become an attractive option as consumers would expect an increasing carbon price, and the internal combustion engine would gradually be phased out.

Admittedly, there is a significant gap between actual carbon prices and those required to achieve ambitious climate change mitigation. The gap can be closed, however, by enhancing the legitimacy and popularity of carbon pricing by using its revenues to fund research and development for zero-carbon solutions, cutting taxes or propping up the welfare state. These revenues could, moreover, be used in developing countries for low-carbon infrastructure investments.

Carbon pricing would be a credible signal to investors that governments are willing to act now. Governments, policymakers and civil society should heed the warnings of the IPCC report and take action immediately.

Katherine Trebek

Head of Knowledge & Policy for

Katherine retweeted this from Jason Hickel of (Twitter)

Hickel is a strong critic of the concept of “growth” in our discourse about climate change - as the tweet above shows, he (along with many others) think our current idea of economic growth will smash all carbon levels. See text from following tweets:

'There is not a single mention of "capitalism" anywhere in the #IPCC #SR15 report. This despite high confidence in ecological economics that capitalism - and its need for perpetual growth - is the key driver of climate breakdown. This is a failure of scientific responsibility. There is mention of "economic growth", but only in the context of the costs to growth of inaction. There is no mention of the contribution that growth makes to climate breakdown. Indeed, the imperative of continued GDP growth is held constant. It is sacrosanct.’

Solitaire Townsend

Co-founder of Futerra, the sustainability consultants.

The Good Life Goals: Solitaire asks what are the personal, individual actions that could be taken in the face of these crises revealed by the IPCC report? Futerra have joined up with the UN 10YFP Sustainable Lifestyles and Education (SLE) Programme to create the Good Life Goals - number 13 of which is “Act on Climate”:

  1. Learn about climate solutions

  2. Call for more renewable energy in your country

  3. Eat more plants and cut down on meat

  4. Walk and cycle rather than drive

  5. Demand leaders take bold climate action today

As Futerra say: “If you were looking for a sign to live a more sustainable lifestyle, this report with a high alert warning is probably it. And if you didn’t know what you could do to be part of the solution, look to the Good Life Goals to be your first step. Let’s not let politics stop us from helping the planet and each other.”

Here’s a back-up of those goals from the Guardian, more on the Good Life Goals in general, and a promo video: