Scientists launch climate crisis ‘countdown clock’ report series to take governments to task

COP28 logo revealed on an interactive screen.
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Top scientists have launched a yearly report series to plug knowledge gaps ahead of COP28 crunch climate talks in the United Arab Emirates. Their novel new “countdown clock” project aims to provide up-to-date information on the climate crisis. In particular, the report aims to inform the public and policymakers on the world’s progress in meeting international climate targets.

New report for tackling the climate crisis

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned the world is on course to cross the key warming threshold of 1.5°c above pre-industrial levels in the early 2030s.

The UN scientific advisory panel is in charge of summarising research on the climate crisis. It has produced comprehensive and authoritative assessment reports in cycles of five to seven years since 1988.

However, scientists feel that the lengthy time lag between its gargantuan reports is less useful for policymakers responding to a fast-moving climate emergency. They have highlighted that IPCC reports draw from studies that may already have been superseded by new findings.

In response, 50 scientists – many lead IPCC contributors – teamed up to produce a more current paper on the climate crisis.

‘Countdown clock’

The first peer-reviewed report of the series was published in the journal Earth System Science Data in June. It said that human-induced warming had reached 1.26°c in 2022. Crucially, it identified that temperatures had increased at an “unprecedented rate” of more than 0.2°c per decade in the 2013 to 2022 period.

These were key updates to the IPCC report published less than a year earlier. In addition, it suggested there was evidence that increases in greenhouse gas emissions have slowed, and that a change of direction could be observed in future updates.

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Co-author Chris Smith of the University of Leeds said that scientists are now monitoring key climate metrics in a more coordinated way thanks to the annual datasets.

Moreover, he stressed that the report “is an annual timely reminder” of the climate crisis. Importantly, he argued that this is needed for after the initial media frenzy around IPCC findings fades.

Smith said the findings were:

the closest number we can come up with that tells us where we are in relation to 1.5°c… This is like a countdown clock.

Feeding into the COP28 climate summit

The report’s authors hope that the study project can feed into international negotiations. In a year marked by devastating extreme weather events, Dubai will host the key COP28 negotiations starting on 30 November. Nations will convene to discuss plans aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and helping nations on the frontline deal with climate impacts.

Smith said that contrary to the IPCC, which strives for political neutrality and consensus:

We have a much more COP (UN climate talks) and policy focus

Echoing this, co-author Peter Thorne from Maynooth University said that the work’s strength lies in:

 the simplicity of updating this handful of key numbers

This, he argued, lent the work “immediate policy relevance”. As a result, the report ensured that negotiations and policy decisions could happen with “meaningful and updated information”.

Climate summits compromised by the fossil fuel industry

However, as the Canary’s Tracy Keeling has previously pointed out, the fossil fuel industry has historically had a significant presence at these summits. For instance, Keeling highlighted that at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists flooded the 2021 COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Now Al Jaber, the head of the UAE’s state oil firm, is leading this year’s summit.

The COP28 president-designate has hypocritically called for nations to step up their climate ambition, while his oil company ramps up financing for more production. Meanwhile, Al Jaber has leaned heavily towards climate ‘solutions’ favoured by the fossil fuel industry. For example, this includes carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Unsurprisingly, the COP28 president has publicly maintained support for the industry. On 8 October, the climate head told delegates at the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Climate Week that the world:

cannot unplug the energy system of today

His comments chimed with previous statements affirming the COP28 president’s continued endorsement of the polluting industry, despite the urgent need for its phasing out.

‘Ringing alarm bells’

Given the fossil fuel industry’s seeming sway over the summit, the new project could still ultimately face similar hurdles to the IPCC’s report. Thorne said of the new findings in the co-authored climate ‘countdown clock’:

In a rational world, it should be ringing alarm bells.

However, in September, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) warned that the world was not on track to meet its target of limiting warming below 1.5°c. Moreover, rich nations continue to plough billions into fossil fuels. Notably, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that nations had in fact expanded subsidies for the climate-wrecking industry to a record $7tn in 2022.

Feature image via COP28 UAE/Youtube screengrab

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

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