What is the role of the scientific community in Climate Action? Should we just be providing facts and figures to decision makers, or should we also be taking further steps to enhance understanding in their communities and on the international stage to put research into practice?
Just a year ago more than 15 thousands concerned scientists gave their second warning to humanity about the impact our species is having on the planet, and the extremely likely consequences we will face. I say second, because the first such warning dates back to almost when I was born, 27 years ago, and was signed by 1,700 scientists. The echo of such papers in politics and the media doesn’t quite resemble the recent impact the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 C Global Warming, published in October this year, had on general society. There are indeed a lot of expectations from this COP, especially because of the content of this special report.
Why is this ‘special report’ so special? It is not only for the fact that it was produced in-between the 5th IPCC report (2014) and the 6th (due in 2021), but is very much about its content and how it has been framed. For the first time the three separate IPCC working groups collaborated on the same document to answer UNFCCC urging questions: what does science know about impact of global warming of 1.5 C; which emissions pathways would enable us to keep the warming to that level; and what are the differences in terms of both actions and impacts between warming of 1.5 or 2 degrees? Importantly the answers have been framed in a different way, a somewhat more accessible way for decision-makers: they framed them around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report used the concept of climate-resilient development pathways, trajectories that strengthen sustainable development and eradicate poverty while addressing the threat of climate change through mitigation and adaptation.
This highlights the role that science plays in not only informing policy, but also providing the tools needed to improve understanding. We could agree then with Professor Daniela Jacob, Director of the Climate Service Center Germany and leading author of the IPCC Special Report, when claiming that missing the 1.5 target would now be primarily due to lack of political will rather than scientific or technological knowledge. On the other hand, Prof Jacob does acknowledge the difficulties politicians may face when taking decisions with impacts so far in the future. Here is where the special report will play a crucial role: by summarising more than 6000 peer-reviewed papers, it now provides possible scenarios, all possible solutions and projections, essentially making the decision-makers decisions easier. This is really #scienceforaction in action.