The Guardian • Issue #2047

“Defuse climate time-bomb”

Photo: K6ka – Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“This is the earth’s last chance to avoid climate disaster,” warns the Intergovernmental UN Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC in its latest report calls for “Deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” The collective failure of world governments to keep even their inadequate promises, says the IPCC, has the world heading towards a catastrophic 3.2 degree rise by 2100.

Launching the IPCC’s Synthesis Report on 20th March 2023, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described it as a “survival guide for humanity,” a “how-to-guide to defuse the climate time tomb.”

The Synthesis Report caps off seven years of in-depth assessments on various topics and six previous reports, involving 700 scientists over six years, drawing on tens of thousands of scientific studies. It was signed off by 195 countries, including Australia. (See Background to IPCC report.)

“The challenge today has become even greater due to a continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are insufficient to tackle climate change,” the IPCC warns.

“Vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected.”

More than a century of burning fossil fuels has resulted in more frequent and more intense extreme weather events that have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world.

This has had profound adverse effects on food and water security, human health and on economies and society with related losses and damages to nature and people.

The report attributes human-caused climate change to more than a century of net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy use, land use and land-use change, lifestyle and patterns of consumption, and production.


“Mitigation policies have contributed to a decrease in global energy and carbon intensity, with several countries achieving GHG emission reductions for over a decade. Low-emission technologies are becoming more affordable, with many low or zero emissions options now available for energy, buildings, transport, and industry.”

“Adaptation planning and implementation progress has generated multiple benefits, with effective adaptation options having the potential to reduce climate risks and contribute to sustainable development.”

There has been an increase in finance for mitigation and adaptation, but it falls short of needs, which is constraining the implementation of adaptation options, especially in developing countries.

“Climate resilient development integrates adaptation and mitigation to advance sustainable development for all, and is enabled by increased international cooperation including improved access to adequate financial resources, particularly for vulnerable regions, sectors and groups, and inclusive governance and coordinated policies …”

“The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.”

The report calls for the sharing of policy measures and adequate finance with significant investment in adaptation.

It says that changes in the food sector, electricity, transport, industry, buildings, and land-use can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, they can make it easier for people to lead low-carbon lifestyles, which will also improve health and wellbeing.


“Almost half of the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change. In the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions,” said Aditi Mukherji, one of the 93 authors of the Synthesis Report.

“We live in a diverse world in which everyone has different responsibilities and different opportunities to bring about change. Some can do a lot while others will need support to help them manage the change,” the report said.

“Prioritising equity, climate justice, social justice, inclusion and just transition processes can enable adaptation and ambitious mitigation actions and climate resilient development.”

The report also looks at the impact on Indigenous peoples. “Cultural losses, related to tangible and intangible heritage, threaten adaptive capacity and may result in irrevocable losses of sense of belonging, valued cultural practices, identity and home, particularly for Indigenous Peoples and those more directly reliant on the environment for subsistence.”


It is thirty years since the Rio Earth Summit which adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) which recognised “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of its signatories. These differentiated responsibilities are based on the difference in social and economic conditions between developed countries and developing and least developed ones. They take into consideration the level of development, circumstances, and capacity of parties to the UNFCC.

The developed countries have a responsibility to assist developing and least developed ones by funding insurance and transfer of technology to enable poorer and less developed ones meet to specific needs and concerns arising from the adverse effects of climate change and to implement response measures.

From the very outset, at the Rio Earth Summit and every summit since, there has been a fierce struggle between the rich polluting countries and the developing and least developed countries who feel the brunt of climate change.

The rich countries are still holding humanity back.


The IPCC calls for “climate resilient development” which involves integrating measures to adapt to climate change with actions to reduce or avoid GHG emissions in ways that provide wider benefits.

At the launch of the report, Guterres presented a plan for countries to hit the fast-forward button on their net-zero deadlines, in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.

In particular, leaders of developed countries must commit to reaching net-zero as close as possible to 2040 and emerging economies as close as possible to 2050. Australia’s target of net zero by 2050 falls short of what is called for.

“Every country must be part of the solution. Demanding others move first only ensures humanity comes last,” Guterres said. The Secretary-General also called for a number of other necessary actions:

  • No new coal, the phasing out of coal by 2030 in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, and 2040 in all other countries;
  • Ending all international public and private funding of coal;
  • Ensuring net-zero electricity generation by 2035 for all developed countries and 2040 for the rest of the world;
  • Ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas – consistent with the findings of the International Energy Agency;
  • Stopping any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves;
  • Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to a just energy transition;
  • Establishing a global phase down of existing oil and gas production, compatible with the 2050 global net-zero target.


The Communist Party of Australia strongly advocates for these measures as do the Australian Greens and a number of teal independents in Parliament.

Both Labor and the Coalition remain steadfast in their opposition to halting new or phasing out existing fossil fuel extraction. Australia’s 43 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030, along with net zero by 2050, does not meet the demands of science. Yet the Australian government’s representatives signed onto the final IPCC report.

Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas and the second-largest coal exporter. There are 116 new fossil fuel projects on the federal government’s list waiting for approval.

Last week the Australian Greens successfully negotiated with the government for the 215 biggest polluters to have a hard cap on emissions under the safeguards mechanism. Coal and gas corporations will not be able to buy their way out of the cap with offsets under the safeguard mechanism.

“We’ve stopped many of the 116 new coal and gas projects in the pipeline from going ahead, pollution will actually go down, and we’ve derailed the Beetaloo and Barossa gas fields,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.

This a significant breakthrough considering the hold the fossil fuel sector has over governments, but it is only the beginning. The government’s priorities are still wrong. The $368 billion AUKUS submarines must be cancelled and measures to address climate change prioritised.

Capitalism, driven by the profit motive and corrupted politicians cannot save humanity. Only socialism with a planned economy has the potential to do so.

Evo Morales, Bolivian President told the first World People’s Congress on Climate Change in 2009: “There are two ways forward: Either save capitalism or save Mother Earth.”

This is humanity’s last chance.

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