• Environmental Law and Regulation Society

I read it so you won’t have to… IPCC AR6 and its implications for policymaking

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

By Rachel Tong


Summary:

The newest annual report published by the IPCC has caused quite a stir in legal, political and financial spheres. For those who might not be familiar with the IPCC and the AR6, the IPCC is an intergovernmental panel in the UN which comprises experts spanning the globe. Their goal is to assess the science related to climate change, and they generate periodic reports to address their findings. Indeed, with the most recent report (Sixth Amendment Report (AR6)) being more than 3000 pages long, it is difficult to expect laymen like you and me to scrutinise every single detail, hence the panel has pertinently prepared a shorter digest directed at policymakers. This blog will summarise the key findings recorded there and will highlight the ways in which climate change policymakers can respond.


The recent release of the IPCC report (1) climate change confirmed most of what we already knew—the earth is warming at an alarming rate, and sea levels are rising as quickly as ever. Yet, as Wall Street Journal reporter Greg Ip aptly notes, what is different this time is the strong and definite tone of the experts who authored it. (2) The frequent use of phrases such as “high confidence”, “extremely likely” and “more likely than not” has significant implications, for this suggests that without enacting significant policy-level changes, there is a high chance that pain and suffering in various populations will worsen. Indeed, António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, even highlighted how 'this is a code red for humanity'.


Here are the trends in relation to the climate that the report (3) has outlined:

  1. 1. Global surface temperature will continually increase until at least mid-century. The global warming of 1.5ºC and 2 ºC will be exceeded in this century unless there are sharp reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases.

  2. 2. There will be a rapid increase in magnitude in the changes of the climate due to global warming. This includes increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves and droughts. There will also be intense tropical cyclones in some regions, along with reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.

  3. 3. The global water cycle is projected to intensify in terms of its variability as well as monsoon precipitation.

  4. 4. Ocean and land carbon sinks are going to be less effective at slowing the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.

  5. 5. Many changes due to previous greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia. These include changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea levels.

However, these ominous predictions do not entail that there is absolutely no hope at all for mankind; there are in fact steps that can be taken to curb the negative effects of climate change. Regarding policymaking, there is an array of approaches that governments can adopt to reach net zero CO2 emissions. These typically fall under two main categories — market-based, as well as non-market-based instruments.


Market-based approaches are mainly regulatory instruments that attach a value or cost to one’s actions. (4) For instance, governments can enact a cap-and-trade scheme, essentially collectively capping the amount of emissions that companies or countries can create. This promotes emissions trading, a means by which countries and companies can buy carbon units from others to make up for any shortfalls. Thus, the net effect on the atmosphere would remain constant and the carbon emissions of companies will at least be managed.


On the other hand, non-market-based approaches are those that are not dependent on individuals’ willingness to pay a price. These include increasing reporting requirements for companies as well as providing green technology support (5), which push companies and individuals to become environmentally conscious. It is only by carefully choosing effective approaches and working collaboratively can countries have a better chance at reducing emissions as a whole.


In short, the conclusions that can be drawn from the AR6 are deeply chilling. Our climate is becoming increasingly erratic, and those living in vulnerable areas—such as coastal regions—may face impending destruction of their homes. Thus, it is all the more important for regulators to turn to different means to help prevent such a disaster. Ultimately, although time is slipping by, there is still hope—I believe we still have a chance at changing the world for the better.





(1) AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis’ (2021),

https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/#TS.

(2) Greg Ip, ‘IPCC Climate Change Report Shows Less Cause for Panic—But More Urgency to Act’ (2021), the Wall Street Journal,

https://www.wsj.com/articles/ipcc-climate-change-report-gives-a-less-extreme-but-more-sobering-outlook 11628697997

(3) Summary for Policymakers’ (2021), https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/#SPM.

4‘What are Market and Non-Market Mechanisms?’ (n.d.), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, https://unfccc.int/topics/what-are-market-and-non-market-mechanisms.

(5) Market-Based Climate Policy Instruments’ (n.d.), EU Climate Policy Info Hub,

https://climatepolicyinfohub.eu/market-based-climate-policy-instruments.html.




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