IPCC’s latest assessment report and sustainability at UVU

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On Aug. 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the sixth Assessment Report (AR6) summarizing the current state of the climate, causes, impacts and options for climate action. The major findings from AR6 show conclusive evidence that human activities are causing climate change, that it is happening in every region on Earth and that we must take instant and aggressive action to mitigate climate change. 

Established in 1988, the IPCC is “the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change,” according to their newsroom. As stated on their website, “The IPCC was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options.”

The IPCC releases three types of reports: “assessment reports,” which are generally targeted toward policy makers, “special reports,” that assess specific issues and “methodology reports,” that provide guidelines on greenhouse gas inventories. The last assessment report was released in 2014 and was the main scientific contributor to the Paris Agreement, a legally-binding, international agreement on climate action. 

Rachel Dobbs, a climate change reporter for The Economist, analyzed AR6 and shared her findings in an interview on The Economist’s podcast. She states, “The world will likely breach 1.5 degrees Celsius of temperature rise, above pre-industrial levels, within the next twenty years. Which very strongly calls into question the world’s ability to meet the goals laid out by the Paris Agreement, which committed to keeping temperatures below 2 degrees, and preferably to 1.5.”

Dobbs goes on to incorporate the IPCC’s global Carbon Budget, stating “they calculate that we can release just 500 billion more tons of carbon dioxide, which is about 15 years of industrial emissions at the rates that we’re currently going,” before we breach the 1.5 mark.

According to NASA’s analysis of the IPCC’s Special Report, if we surpass 2 C, we will face multi-faceted consequences that will impact every aspect of life on Earth. These include increases in extreme weather events, fires, droughts, diseases, species extinction rates, deforestation, desertification, climate refugees and ocean acidification. It will also mean decreasing polar ice sheets, sea ice, biodiversity, marine life and food security. But the consequences of breaching this mark are not simply environmental. 

According to the same report by NASA, “economic damages from climate change are projected to be large, with one 2017 study concluding the United States could lose 2.3% of its Gross Domestic Product for each degree Celsius increase in global warming,” which will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. It also states that, “Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could reduce the number of people susceptible to climate-related poverty risks by as much as several hundred million by 2050.”

While these findings may feel daunting, the story isn’t over. There are many strategies that can be employed to mitigate the effects of climate change and to reduce or even eliminate some emissions. Just like the problem, solutions for climate change rest with both institutions and individuals. As stated by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, “The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path.”

When asked what he thinks people need to know about the climate crisis, Russell Hatch, a senior in English Education at UVU, stated, “Anthropogenic global warming needs to be called what it is: global warming. ‘Climate change’ adds another linguistic layer, creating distance between our perception of the problem and what’s actually happening. If we’re going to take the data seriously (and we should) then it’s in our best interest to use language that is more accurate so we can better identify patterns, problems, and solutions. Recognizing global warming for what it is will make it easier to address small and meaningful changes in our day-to-day lives while we shift the overarching structure.”

One of the most effective ways to mitigate the climate crisis is to reduce methane emissions. Methane is a more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, meaning that it traps energy more successfully but it has a significantly shorter half-life, or “breakdown time.” It primarily comes from landfills, grazing agriculture, and oil and gas drilling. These emissions can be reduced with more regulation and by integrating negative-emission technologies. Reducing methane can slow down global warming by 30%, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Here at Utah Valley University, sustainability is an increasingly important factor in decision making, from building design to waste management to transportation. “Sustainability represents a belief that environmental stewardship can, indeed must, exist in balance with economic development and social responsibility,” the university states on their sustainability page. “As an expanding university UVU believes that it is not only our duty to balance these interests but an opportunity to demonstrate our core values of exceptional care, exceptional accountability, and exceptional results.”

Moreover, in their Sustainability Resolution, UVU has committed to developing “a plan to become carbon neutral by 2050,” in addition to improving the Sustainability Committee and conducting an assessment of their current carbon footprint. For more information on UVU’s sustainability plans, see What UVU Is Doing. For a list of information on UVU’s committees, including the Sustainability Committee, see this list.

While institutions carry the majority of influence when it comes to climate action, there are many things that individuals can do. For example, UVU students, faculty and staff receive a free UTA pass with their ID card and can utilize transit to reduce their emissions. Additionally, lifestyle changes like reducing meat consumption and waste, and supporting local businesses are effective and realistic ways to take climate-positive action. 

For more ideas to reduce your carbon footprint, see What You Can Do. To learn more about carbon footprints, and to calculate your own, see Nature.org. “Global warming is a pervasive and intersectional issue that hits those with the least amount of privilege the hardest,” said Hatch. “If we remain unconscious, apathetic, or deny the reality of global warming then we’re abandoning those who suffer most. We should be alarmed, but not fatalistic. The more aware we are, the more power we have.”