IPCC's Survival Guide for Humanity: Facing COP28

In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finalized the Synthesis Report for the Sixth Assessment. Dubbed a “survival guide for humanity” by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, it provides policymakers with a roadmap ahead of this year’s UN climate summit (COP28) in Dubai.

The Synthesis Report  builds off three Working Group contributions in 2021 and 2022, as well as three Special Reports. Each assessment cycle lasts five to seven years, meaning that we may not hear again from the IPCC until as late as 2030. The latest report is effectively a final warning for nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half in 2030 to keep the hope of limiting global warming to 1.5°C alive. 

A Message on Climate Resilient Development

The report shows that human activities have unequivocally caused global warming, with global surface temperatures increasing 1.1°C in 2011-2020 from pre-industrial levels. This impact has resulted in a rise in extreme weather events, creating increasingly dangerous impacts on humans and nature. 

To counter this, the Synthesis Report concludes the solution lies in climate resilient development, which integrates adaptation and mitigation to advance sustainable development for all. Compared to reports from previous assessment cycles, the IPCC takes a more intersectional approach to the climate crisis, emphasizing the importance of mitigation and adaptation actions that prioritize “equity, climate justice, social justice, inclusion, and just transition processes.” 

“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” said Aditi Mukherji, one of the 93 authors of this Synthesis Report, the closing chapter of the Panel’s Sixth Assessment. 

“Almost half of the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change. In the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions,“ she added.

The report puts the contentious issue of loss and damage front-and-center, stating with high confidence that adverse impacts and related losses and damages are already widespread and will only continue to worsen with delayed action in mitigation and adaptation. Long considered the third pillar of climate action, loss and damage refers to negative impacts of climate change that occur despite, or in the absence of, mitigation and adaptation. 

Climate Finance in the Spotlight

Funding for loss and damage has been one of the most contentious issues in the climate negotiations, but countries agreed to “funding arrangements” at COP27 in Egypt last year, breaking a 30-year deadlock on the issue. The report provides negotiators with ample ammunition to operationalize the fund, highlighting that “vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected.”

The report also highlights the need for a many-fold increase in finance for adaptation and mitigation, despite the fact that there is “sufficient global capital to close the global investment gap.” In 2009, developed countries committed to mobilizing USD 100 billion per year by 2020, a figure that was reaffirmed in the Paris Agreement. An OECD report from last year shows that in 2020, only USD 83.3 billion was mobilized. 

In 2022, the U.S. Congress approved only USD 1 billion in climate finance, despite the Biden Administration pledging to provide USD 11.4 billion a year by 2024 at COP26. The United States has still failed to deliver on USD 2 billion of the USD 3 billion it pledged to the Green Climate Fund back in 2014, although Biden recently pledged USD 1 billion. Based on the USD 100 billion goal, most analyses show that the United States’ fair share of climate finance to be north of USD 40 billion. 

The IPCC’s report on climate finance comes at a critical time as nations are in the early stages of defining a climate finance goal. In the decision accompanying the adoption of the Paris Agreement, parties agreed to establish a New Collective Quantified Goal by 2025, which has the potential to redefine the climate finance landscape and aim for a more ambitious quantitative figure. 

“Accelerated climate action will only come about if there is a many-fold increase in finance. Insufficient and misaligned finance is holding back progress,” said Christopher Trisos, one of the report’s authors.

The Need for Fossil Fuel Phaseouts

The report provides some important language on fossil fuels, noting that the existing infrastructure will exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C without additional abatement. The report builds the case for “deep, rapid, and sustained” reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming.

The authors also point out that public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than the financial resources directed toward climate adaptation and mitigation. The authors state that removing fossil fuel subsidies could help reduce emissions and yield benefits that include "improved public revenue, macroeconomic, and sustainability performance."

UN Secretary-General António Guterres released a video message to accompany the release of the Synthesis Report, calling for a Climate Solidarity Pact through an all-hands-on-deck Acceleration Agenda. Leaders of developed countries are urged to commit to reaching net-zero as close as possible to 2040, as well as safeguard vulnerable communities and scale up finance. Guterres calls for the phasing out of all coal by 2030 and a global phase down of existing oil and gas production that is compatible with the Paris Agreement's net-zero target for 2050. 

“It starts with parties immediately hitting the fast-forward button on their net-zero deadlines to get to global net-zero by 2050, in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances,” said Guterres. 

Guterres’ proposal accompanied by the robust text in the Synthesis Report comes on the heels of last year’s negotiations in Egypt that were largely viewed as a failure on the mitigation front. Coming into COP27, many parties hoped to expand upon language agreed to in the Glasgow Pact the previous year, which called for “accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” These efforts were shut down by nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia, which opposed language proposed by India calling for the phase down of all fossil fuels.

Rising energy prices resulting from the Ukraine war have also led many nations to double down on fossil fuel infrastructure. Despite strong condemnation from environmental groups, President Biden recently approved the Willow oil drilling project on reserves that hold as much as 600 million barrels of oil. Despite pledging “no more drilling on federal lands, period,” Biden has actually granted more drilling leases than Trump during the first 25 months of their respective administrations.

U.S., Others Push to Weaken Language

A session for 195 governments to approve the report and its corresponding summary for policymakers was held in Switzerland. It was reported that the United States, Saudi Arabia, China, and other countries worked to actively weaken the text. 

According to Ajit Niranjan of Heatmap, the United States attempted to remove the word "equitable" from text surrounding climate finance and, along with Switzerland, unsuccessfully advocated for removing language on climate finance gaps. The United States also opposed a suggestion from India, Bolivia, and China that the "pace, depth, and breadth are contingent on the availability of means of implementation, technology transfer, capacity, and the remaining carbon budget and equity access to it.”

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, "strongly opposed" the inclusion of a sentence proposed by Finland that the root cause of climate change is the use of fossil fuels. The country also successfully lobbied to have the words "without additional abatement" added when discussing how projected CO2 emissions from fossil fuels would blow past the remaining carbon budget to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees.

China also attempted to remove the finding that the world must cut carbon pollution by two-thirds over the next twelve 12 years.

Informing the Global Stocktake

The Synthesis Report will be key to informing policymakers ahead of this year’s UN Climate Conference (COP28), which will take place from November 30 until December 12 in Dubai. 

This year’s negotiations will be key for advancing the loss and damage fund, making progress on the New Collective Quantifiable Goal, and defining the Global Goal on Adaptation. The IPCC report provides key insights that can help advance all three issues.

The conclusion of the first Global Stocktake (GST), a critical component of the Paris Agreement, which assesses the collective progress and what parties achieved so far in implementing their climate plans, is also set to take place at COP28. The Synthesis Report is one of the most comprehensive sources to date for building this year’s assessment. 

A push for stronger language on greenhouse gas mitigation and a phasedown in fossil fuel use in this year’s cover text is likely after parties came up short at COP27. The case for doing so is bolstered by the Synthesis Report’s call for "deep, rapid, and sustained" cuts.