The latest IPCC report, published last Monday (4th April), is 2913 pages long and outlines, in the greatest detail, how we can respond to the climate crisis. The news cycle may have moved on from the headline topics but for those of us who are interested in understanding this topic – it contains a wealth of information, which filled me with a conflicting mix of dread and hope.
The IPCC is in its 6th Assessment Report consisting of three Working Groups and a Synthesis Report. The document published last week was the product of Working Group 3 which focused on mitigation, or – in other words – reducing our emissions. Working Group 2 published its report in February detailing the impacts of climate change, how we can adapt and where we are vulnerable, while Working Group 1 published their report in August 2021 outlining the physical science of climate change.
The culmination of all these reports paints a dire picture. We have so far failed to halt climate breakdown. It is still technically possible to change our energy systems and infrastructure to stave off the worst of the impacts of climate breakdown but our recalcitrant political and economic systems mean we more than likely won’t. We are on a path of destruction which we can’t seem to get off, no matter how stark the warnings are.
“Without a strengthening of policies beyond those that are implemented by the end of 2020, GHG emissions are projected to rise beyond 2025, leading to a median global warming of 3.2 [2.2 to 3.5] °C by 2100”.
Understanding all of this I still cannot help but feel some hope on reading through the latest issue.
The very existence of these IPCCs reports are a testament to hope. The authors have worked, sometimes for decades, continuously plotting the course climate collapse will take and communicating the impacts to the global community in the hope that change will happen. This latest document maps out a precarious path to a relatively safer climate. It is realistic about the challenge we face, but focuses on what we need to do to bring our emissions down, which indicates that action can still mitigate the worst effects.
In addition, this report has 17 chapters covering emission trends and drivers, mitigation pathways compatible with near, mid, and long term goals, social aspects of mitigation, energy systems, agriculture and land use, urban systems, buildings, transport, and industry, and also examines these issues from a cross-sectoral perspective. Policies, institutions, finance, the role of technology and how we can accelerate action are all covered – giving us a map to guide us as we take climate action.
It outlines the actions individuals and communities can take. It highlights the opportunities and barriers in decarbonising our society and most importantly for us in the JCFJ it stresses the importance of equity and justice in developing climate policies.
Every IPCC report hammers home the enormity of the task facing us and the dire consequences of inaction. This is no different. It documents how our efforts so far have failed, and how increasing efficiencies leads inextricably to increased use. Doing things better will not work. The only realistic option left is radical action – the steepest reduction in emissions is now necessary. We have to reimagine society, weaving all its dysfunctional threads together, to attempt to create a more just, sustainable and equal world.
Manifesto for a Green New Deal
In November 2020 the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice published a ‘Manifesto for a Green New Deal’ a document that began with the assertion that “the world as we know it is falling apart, but in a thousand different ways.” Even our account of the collapse is falling apart under the pressure of climate change, the tame advice about simply thinking green is now untenable.
We named integral ecology – the philosophical framework that understands ecological collapse and social injustice as two sides of the same coin – as a solution to climate breakdown that “seeks to remedy social inequality as a means to avert ecological collapse.”
Obviously, the JCFJ Green New Deal document is very different to the IPCC report, but the commitment to integral ecology is evident in both documents. The language differs, with the IPCC referencing integrated planning, systems thinking, and cross-sectoral perspectives as well as social dimensions, but the fundamental similarities to integral ecology are plainly visible.
“If attention is not paid to equity, efforts designed to tackle climate change may end up exacerbating inequities among communities and between. The implication is that to be sustainable in the long run, mitigation involves a central place for consideration of justice, both within and between countries. Arguments that the injustices following from climate change are symptomatic of a more fundamental structural injustice in social relations, are taken to imply a need to address the deeper inequities within societies.”
In our Manifesto for a Green New Deal we state that “the scale of the problem we face is so complex, that only a complex arrangement of conversations can hope to help us think through possible solutions”. The the concept of Deliberate Democracy is central to the development and implementation of fair and effective climate action. Again, the IPCC report speaks with different terminology but says much the same thing: “policies that increase the political access and participation of women, racialised, and marginalised groups, increase the democratic impetus for climate action. Including more differently situated knowledge and diverse perspectives makes climate mitigation policies more effective”. The importance of communal, community action is stressed: “collective action as part of social or lifestyle movements underpins system change”. The vital role that indigenous and local communities can play in both the development of policy and in grassroots climate action is also recognised.
Finally, in our Manifesto we illustrate how policies for areas including housing, transport, and education must complement and strengthen the objective of a more just and sustainable society. The IPCC report integrates and weaves these issues together powerfully. The chapter focusing on cross-sectoral perspectives is explicit in highlighting the futility of analysing these areas separately.
Throughout the IPCC report the pathway towards a more sustainable society is mapped out but it also discusses barriers to achieving those ambitions. Some involve capacity issues: “Mitigation pathways are associated with significant institutional and economic feasibility challenges rather than technological and geophysical… Institutional capacity is rather a key limiting factor for a successful transition”. Others are powerful entities that benefit from the status quo: “the constraint is also political, in terms of the power of incumbent fossil fuel interests to block initiatives towards decarbonisation”.
An ecological conversion not only at the individual but also institutional and political level is a vitally important process. We know now that we will not change our actions, reducing our emissions and treading more lightly on the earth, if we ourselves are not fundamentally changed. The technical work is racing ahead. Each year we see advances in how to capture the energy from the sun and wind. The research into how we can move vast amount of people exists, and often relies on very simple technology. Our methods for working the land to produce food has advanced to a point that we can see a way forward.
The work we now need to do is to convince ourselves and our institutions that this work is necessary. This situation is dire, but while there is light at the end of the tunnel – no matter how dim – we must go towards it instead of throwing our hands up in grief in the darkness.