Juan Bordera Romá reports about how recent IPCC leaks were passed on to him, and what it actually means. He is a screenwriter and journalist and a degrowth activist in Extinction Rebellion and the Transition Network.
Somewhat by chance and because I was working in the right place at the right time, I was one of the journalists who exclusively leaked the contents of one of the most important reports in recent years. This is the report by Working Group 3 of the UN organization – the IPCC – which is in charge of designing proposals to mitigate the effects of climate chaos. Both those already caused and those yet to come. The conclusions drawn from what has happened so far and from the report itself are not easy to digest. And precisely because of this, much less is being done than what is essential.
Let’s start by recalling that there was a leak prior to ours, of the report from the Working Group 3 – the one in charge of measuring the impacts – made by Agence France-Presse (AFP) in June of this year. I don’t know where the leak came from and what it contained, but the headline: “Life on Earth can recover from major climate change. Humanity cannot”, went around the world and we at Fastlove analysed it here.
These IPCC leaks already revealed that there was a certain nervousness in the scientific community, and a desire to skip the step of review and modification by governments of the summaries of the reports (yes, incredible as it may seem, governments can propose changes to scientists and must unanimously approve the final summary of each working group). Moreover, these summaries are what the absolute majority of journalists read, and they are the basis for the subsequent information that is disseminated, as the reports are several thousand pages long each. Although the scientific work is unimpeachable, this makes it even more difficult for the more daring positions to appear.
Then, a month and a half after the first IPCC leaks – on 6 August – just 3 days before the first part of the report was officially published (Working Group I – in charge of giving science evidence), a very special piece of content reached the Extinction Rebellion Spain movement, of which I am a member. We are talking about the leaked summary of Working Group 3, the mitigation proposals.
Obviously this part of the report is very important, as it has to dive into proposing paths that are passable to avoid the worst results of the climate chaos we have already unleashed.
And while sometimes they are not as bold as the situation requires – even with the summer of extreme events we are experiencing – on this occasion there are parts of the report that have challenged the usual somewhat tepid logic of previous reports.
So, in short, what does the scientific community propose?
Based on the previous work of more than 14.000 different studies, very briefly their conclusions are clear:
- “Coal and gas plants should be shut down within 9 to 12 years”.
- “Total emissions need to peak in 2025 and fall rapidly from there to net zero between 2050 and 2075”.
- All these plans are based on technologies (carbon capture and sequestration, and carbon dioxide removal – CCS and CDR) that are far from being developed. Therefore, they are still relying on some sort of “technological miracle”. This is not very scientific, to be honest.
- “In scenarios with reduced energy demand, the mitigation challenges are significantly reduced, with less reliance on CO2 removal (CDR), less pressure on land and lower carbon prices. These scenarios do not imply a decrease in welfare, but a provision of better services.” This is literally an adaptation scenario to the economic theory that advocates that it is possible to live well with less. Degrowth.
- Different scenarios are expected: Global warming associated with these different emissions scenarios ranges from less than 1.5°C to more than 5°C by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. We are at 1.1°C and are already seeing increasingly catastrophic consequences of climate destabilisation. Avoiding exceeding 1.5°C is almost impossible to achieve. But every tenth of a degree counts.
- Fighting energy poverty and climate change are not incompatible. This is because the biggest emitters are the richest ones: the richest 10% emit ten times more than the poorest 10%.
For all the above reasons, the content of the exclusive has gone around the world.
We first published it in the Spanish magazine CTXT, from there it reached The Guardian in the UK, the Spiegel in Germany, CNBC in the US and Yale University, as well as India, China, Indonesia, Brazil and many other countries.
As if this were not enough, the source of the leak (a group of scientist-activists, Scientist Rebellion) was so happy with the work that they passed us more material (the entire chapter 1 of the report) and with it we were able to produce another article in CTXT, co-written with some of the best experts in our country on the issue, and which has even been translated into English in the prestigious Monthly Review. Well, now that the maelstrom of work and unleashed emotions has passed, and the content has settled, I am going to try to summarise how complex I see this issue.
Embracing degrowth can be key to managing climate chaos, and capitalism as we understand it is unsustainable.
These are the two main conclusions. And the fact that they are reflected in a report that tends to be more conservative than daring says a lot about the seriousness of the situation.
The first thing I would like to do is to thank the enormous team effort that has made it possible for this to get this far. Secondly, I would like to point out that there are many barriers in the media. Some – most of the television channels – have not even deigned to mention the leak. They dare not speak clearly about the enormous problem and how little is being done to solve it. And this barrier is key. If it is not told, it does not exist. And it is impossible to do what needs to be done.
You may be wondering: how huge is the climate problem? Well, I remember the headline of the first leak:
“Life on Earth can recover from major climate change by evolving new species and creating new ecosystems. Humanity cannot”.
Extinctions seem to us to be a thing of the past and could never affect us, the all-powerful and omnipotent being that calls itself “Sapiens Sapiens”, while destroying its own life support. But there are many facts that confirm that this is not the case. The current rate of species extinction is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average of the last ten million years. And it is accelerating. Dangerously close to the rate of the previous 5 great mass extinctions. Add to this runaway climate change that may take on an irreversible inertia for humans. It is not serious. It is a matter of life and death.
Extinctions are usually caused by an abrupt change in some factor that destabilises the quasi-magical balance of life on Earth. In the past they have been triggered by a series of volcanic mega-eruptions or a meteorite impact. And this sixth mass extinction is happening because of us. Yes, us. We are the meteorite now. At least the unbridled economic system we have built.
This story was first published on resilience.org