Net Zero Critically Needed Amid Intensifying Climate Crisis, New U.N. Report Says

As flooding, wildfires, heat waves, cyclones, droughts and other severe events wreak havoc in 2021, one report espouses the facts: human influence is much to blame, and time is running out.

The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Monday by top scientists uses the latest science to capture the unprecedented effects of the accelerating climate crisis.

Calling the report a “reality check,” IPCC Working Group I co-chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte said, “We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done and how we can prepare.”

IPCC’s Working Group I report — “Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis” — was approved by 195 member governments of the IPCC over weeks of review. The report is the first of six in an installment the IPCC aims to complete by 2022.

Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities, according to the report, are responsible for approximately 1.1-degree Celsius of warming since 1850 to 1900. Already, climate change is affecting every inhabited region across the globe and the crisis is set to intensify without major intervention.

As per the report, each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years. Meanwhile, global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle — meaning more variability, global monsoon precipitation and severe wet and dry events.

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Sea-level rise, and a slew of other emissions-induced changes, are said to be “irreversible” in the imminent future, requiring centuries to millennia of recovery.

The report found that limiting global temperature rise to the 1.5-degree Celsius trajectory (as had been defined by the landmark Paris Agreement) will be a lost cause “unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades,” as the course is already in motion for global temperature to “reach or exceed 1.5-degree Celsius of warming” over the next 20 years.

In this best case scenario, regions adapt to heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons, but at 2-degree Celsius of global warming — heat extremes would more often “reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health.”

Temperature is just one component of the climate crisis.

By advisement of the scientists who produced the report, humans’ actions still have the “potential to influence the future course of the climate.” (Of course, other greenhouse gas emissions should be strongly reduced as well).

Net zero is more than just an empty promise. “Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net-zero CO2 emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate,” said IPCC Working Group I co-chair Panmao Zhai.

These net-zero aims and a 1.5-degree Celsius trajectory are also increasingly mimicked in the fashion industry’s attempts at corralling its impact with “The Fashion Pact” or the predecessor Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.

More and more companies are embracing science-based emissions targets while reigning in Scope 1, 2 (owned and operated emissions) and 3 (indirect emissions) as carbon labeling comes into fashion.

On fashion’s simultaneous path to carbon neutrality, Marci Zaroff, an eco-fashion pioneer, said that “Sustainability is no longer about staying ahead — it’s about not getting left behind. This must be a communal effort or we all lose.”

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