Climate Justice & Sustainability

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Climate Change Panel - What You Need To Know

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Today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launches the report from working group I (focusing on climate science), the first part of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on climate change.Ellie Hopkins covers the headlines, discusses what it means for young people, and what impact—if any—you can expect on public policy. And if all that wasn’t enough, she’s put together a curated list of top resources for more information.

What are the headlines from AR5?

For the most part, AR5 doesn’t tell us anything new - it’s the usual story of rapidly retreating Arctic ice, increasingly acidic oceans, rising sea levels and melting glaciers. Instead, it focuses on the increasing certainty about the causes (i.e. humans burning fossil fuels) and impacts of climate change. According to the report, climate scientists are now 95% confident that climate change is caused by humans, up from 90% in 2006 and 66% in 2001.

The report does find that climate change is occurring faster than was previously expected, though given the IPCC’s tendency to err on the side of caution when it comes to the figures and predictions, that’s not a major surprise.

What does the report mean for young people?

As expected, it’s not good news - but then we knew that already. The IPCC predicts that there is the same chance of average surface temperature warming only being 1 degree Celsius by 2100 as there is the chance of warming being a catastrophic 4 degrees Celsius. So it seems we’re likely headed for somewhere in between, but this still means increased natural disasters, higher food prices, higher risk of illness and potentially millions of climate refugees.

In a stark warning issued on Monday, UNICEF UK laid out the potential impacts of climate change on children and young people. You can read the report here.

“We are hurtling towards a future where the gains being made for the world’s children are threatened and their health, well being, livelihoods and survival are compromised… despite being the least responsible for the causes,” - David Bull, UNICEF’s U.K. executive director.

But stark warnings and dire predictions will do little if there is no action, particularly by way of national policies and internationally agreed actions.

So what about policy?

Realistically, this report probably doesn’t mean much for policy. Negotiations in forums such as the UNFCCC aren’t around whether climate change is happening or if humans are responsible, they’re about who is going to do what about it, by when, and who will pay.

At the national level, some governments may be spurred on to speed up the implementation of adaptation and preparedness measures given the faster than predicted rate of climate change. But for the most part, governments have already heard the warnings, and have made their decisions about whether or not to react and if so, to what extent.

Because it’s not just the IPCC making these warnings. In recent years the World Bank has begun to call for stronger action on climate change, and earlier this year they released a report titled “Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4oC Warmer World Must be Avoided”. Business too understands the risk that climate change poses, according to PriceWaterhouseCooper. In reviewing the AR5, they call climate change the “mother of all risks”, and rightly point out that

“you wouldn’t get in a car with a 95% chance of crashing, but we seem happy to take an equivalent level of risk with climate change”.

The lack of political action isn’t because there is a corresponding lack of consensus or clear science - the science is absolutely clear, as the AR5 shows. This report is vital, however, in reminding us of the seriousness, scale and immediacy of climate change, and in reinforcing the message that civil society and businesses are sending to policy-makers.

Top reads & resources

REPORT: The full Working Group 1 (Climate Science) report will be available from 30th September on a dedicated website. A summary for policy makers is available here too from the 27th September. [Link]

INFOGRAPHIC: “Climate, Everyone’s Business: The process behind the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the UN’s Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)” by Information is Beautiful. [Click on the image to view].


PODCAST: Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester sets the scene for the report release, giving an overview of the IPCC and what the AR5 says for Friends of the Earth. [Link]

ARTICLE: “What is the IPCC and why does it matter?” by Tierney Smith of TckTckTck. [Link]

FACTSHEETS: from the IPCC itself, covering topics including:

  • “How does the IPCC select its authors?”
  • “How does the IPCC review process work?”
  • “How does the IPCC deal with alleged errors?”


INTERACTIVE: Enter your date of birth to see how much the world has warmed since you have been alive, and how much warmer it will get during your lifetime. Guardian. [Link]

REPORT: “Climate Change: Children’s Challenge”, UNICEF UK. [Link]

PRESS RELEASE: “UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres: Latest IPCC findings a clarion call for global community to accelerate efforts to combat climate change and steer humanity out of danger zone”, IPCC. [Link]

WEBSITE: “Why the World Bank is Taking on Climate Change” [Link]

ARTICLE: “PWC’s Sustainability & Climate Change Team Preview the IPCC AR5 Science Report”[Link]

INFOGRAPHIC: “25 years of the IPCC” by Nature [Link] [Click on the image to view].