2021 IPCC Report on Climate Change: What Companies and Individuals Can Do to Help

“Where are we now, and where are we heading?” is a question that pops up frequently. Most recently, it’s come up in the context of the 6th IPCC Report on climate change.

The 2015 Paris Agreement—and its goal to keep global warming at least below 2°C above pre-industrial levels—is well known now. However, not many people are aware of the IPCC and its reports, which lay the scientific groundwork for such accords.

What is the IPCC?

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is a United Nations body established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program to assess climate change scientifically.

The IPCC does not conduct their own research but comprehensively compiles research related to climate change. Doing so provides a detailed big picture of where we are now and where we are probably heading in the context of climate change and action.

The IPCC has already performed five Assessment Report Cycles and is in the final phases of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) Cycle. The report is to comprise of three parts:

  • The Physical Science Basis
  • Mitigation of Climate Changeand
  • Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability

Out of these, the first was released in August 2021. It gives us much-needed insight into climate trends so far and projections to watch out for. 

Key takeaways from the 6th IPCC report

The most crucial fact among the findings is the anthropogenic nature of climate change.

1.    Humans have caused climate change

The IPCC report doesn’t mince words in this regard: climate change is human-caused. With much more data, novel findings, better technology, and higher resolution models collected and developed in the 13 years since Assessment Report Number 4, climate models have become very accurate in establishing the correlations between the observed data fields. This has enabled us to identify the root causes of climate change and concretely prove that climate change is indeed anthropogenic.

2.    Greenhouse gas emissions are the leading cause of climate change

It is known that one of the main reasons for climate change is global warming. But the cause for global warming has been established in this report as greenhouse gases. The report attributed most of the warming to Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Methane, while Volatile Organic Compounds, Halogen Gases, and Nitrous Oxide share smaller percentages.

The report indicates that this is a downward spiral. More CO2 leads to global warming, which causes ocean warming. This causes less oceanic CO2 absorption, which in turn leads to higher CO2 levels. As a result, it is of paramount importance that we cut down emissions to stand a chance of slowing down climate change.

3.    The frequency and severity of extreme events will increase over time

The last decade (2010 to 2020) has been the hottest on record in 125,000 years. Yes, you read that right. The severe wildfires we experienced past few years are a direct repercussion of the heat and dryness. 

As this continues, so too will the intensity and frequency of freak natural events increase. We’ll continue to see more forest fires, floods, heavy rains, and may well lead to more catastrophes, including habitat degradation and erosion.

Given that humans are entirely responsible for this soup we’re in, it’s fair that we also take responsibility for restoring balance. Happily, there are several ways in which we can achieve this at grassroots’ and higher levels. 

What can companies do to facilitate climate action?

Let’s look at what companies can do to reverse the damage and facilitate climate action:

1.    Reduce CO2 emissions

We’ve seen in the report that CO2 emissions are a leading cause of climate change. Companies can check and reduce their emissions by auditing every single process for known and unknown impacts. 

To reduce emissions, businesses can:

  • Switch to certified renewable energy for running offices and databases.
  • Reduce the necessity of office commutes and international travel by establishing Work-From-Home setups and investing in communication software.
  • Optimize heating and cooling systems in office buildings.
  • Minimize food waste and encourage vegan and vegetarian meals at the office.
  • Track supply chain efficiency to cut environmental risks and reduce third-party emissions.

2.    Work towards UN Sustainable Development Goals

Regardless of industry or size, all companies have the potential to contribute to the UN SDGs, a broad range of sustainable development issues earmarked by the UN as critical to the planet’s and population’s welfare.

Global challenges need solutions, especially those related to agriculture, buildings, electricity, industry, and transport. Private sectors are well placed to deliver these through collaboration and innovation. 

Sportswear titan Nike, for example, aligns itself to Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production and is moving towards a zero-carbon and zero-waste existence. Air travel is one of the biggest CO2-emitting industries, and many airlines recognize and try to offset that. JetBlue, for example, is aligned to Goal 13: Climate action and is currently offsetting their emissions and exploring renewable jet fuel solutions.

3.    Support reforestation drives

Trees are well-known carbon sinks and have the potential to offset much of the damage we’ve done so far. Companies can embark on organization-level tree-planting drives to add more fodder and capital into the reforestation and afforestation sectors.

By supporting such large-scale operations, companies can actively green the earth, meet their CSR goals, and invest in a better future for their employees.

What can individuals do in response to the IPCC report?

While companies generally have the means and authority to create large-scale change, we must not forget potential contributions on an individual level. After all, tiny drops make an ocean, and we’ve seen more than enough proof of how the mobilization of individual consumers can spur many positive changes. 

1.    Commit to living more sustainably 

Living sustainably is one of the best ways to spur organization-level changes from the grassroots level. The simple logic is that, as more and more consumers boycott environmentally unsafe products, previously apathetic brands respond with better-thought-out solutions. It’s important to note that living sustainably is dependent on many factors, including access, financial stability, geographic location, and more. What’s considered sustainable in one region may be harmful in another. However, here are some universally positive changes individuals can begin with:

  • Avoid meat and dairy products and switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet.
  • Cut back on using air travel or supporting it (through overseas purchases, for example).
  • Make sure homes are energy-efficient.
  • Consume less overall and recycle when possible.

2.    Put pressure on policymakers

To keep global warming below “safe” levels, system-level adjustments in how humans utilize energy and natural resources are required. Laws, rules, regulations, standards, and incentives are examples of government policies that can modify a system and hold the right people accountable. The expression of public will, mainly through citizen action, has a significant impact on policymaking. Governments are more likely to prioritize climate change action if public demand is strong. 

Ways to do this include:

  • Organizing and participating in climate action-related rallies.
  • Amplifying the voices of vulnerable groups most affected by climate change.
  • Using the right to vote as an instrument for change in the right direction.
  • Exercising our power as shareholders to sway company-level policies.
  • Donate time and money to organizations doing the work.
  • Call for environment-friendly policies and changes in the workplace.

3.    Mobilize for local climate action

We don’t have to look too far to see the adverse effects of climate change because a lot of it might be happening in our backyards. To that end, individuals can use their time and resources to mobilize local climate action. For example, groups can embark on cleaning drives, plant trees, support local businesses, and call for better policies together.

Our roles as citizens with local governments hold immense power. Local climate action is a significant first step towards larger-scale change.

The final word 

As we wait for the second and third parts of the 6th IPCC reports, we must understand the statistics the first part lays bare and work towards remedying that. After all, bold climate action is possible when we work together!