Today, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published its Synthesis Report, the final part of its Sixth Assessment cycle. The synthesis report gives an overview of the state of knowledge on climate change, highlighting new developments since the previous synthesis report in 2014. The European Commission welcomes the report and reaffirms its commitment to ambitious climate action.
Our planet is heating up
The report confirms unequivocally that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have made the climate significantly hotter, and this has led to widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere. On average, global surface temperatures were 1.1˚C higher between 2011-2020 than temperatures before the industrial revolution.
Emissions are still on the rise
Despite repeated warnings and the action that has been taken, emissions continue to rise. The last decade assessed in the report (2010-2019) saw the largest ever increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. And in 2022 global energy-related emissions of CO2 reached their highest level in history, according to the latest report by the International Energy Agency.
Climate change is already having an impact
Human-induced climate change is already having a significant impact on human and natural systems. The risks are greater than previously assessed and will escalate with further warming.
More people are dying from extreme heat and more land is being burnt by wildfires. Tropical cyclones are causing more damage, the ocean is getting warmer and becoming more acidic, and the sea level continues to rise, and at a faster rate. This taking a heavy toll on ecosystems in on land and at sea. For example, extreme heat in South Africa in 2020 when maximum temperatures exceeded 45°C caused mass mortality events that affected 14 species of birds and bats. Australia recorded several mass mortality events of flying foxes when temperatures exceeded 42°C. Meanwhile in Europe, warmer winters have allowed bark beetle populations to grow rapidly, causing huge damage to conifer forests in much of Central and Eastern Europe. Such damage to ecosystems has already led to the extinction of certain species, and climate change is also reducing food and water security.
The golden toad (bufo periglenes) was last seen in 1989, and was the first species whose extinction was attributed to climate change. The golden toad lived in mountain-top cloud forests in central America that have disappeared due to drought and other changes to the climate.
Solutions exist but effects persist
The IPCC report confirms that global warming will continue to increase in the near term. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5˚°C above preindustrial levels by the early 2030s and the severity of warming after that depends on emissions in the coming decades.
The only way to halt global warming and lessen the impacts of climate change, together with the associated loss of life and livelihoods, and damage to ecosystems and biodiversity, is to bring global greenhouse gas emissions down to net-zero. However, in the coming decades many climate related threats are unavoidable due both to historical emissions and projected future emissions. Avoiding the worst impacts depends both on our ability to reduce emissions and our efforts to increase the preparedness and resilience of our societies, and to adapt to climate change.
To reduce emissions, the report highlights low-cost options such as boosting wind and solar energy and improved access to low-carbon public transport, which could be upscaled within a decade, and stresses that energy efficiency and sustainable development make good sense economically and should be prioritised. Early and ambitious mitigation action would not only reduce the risk of overshooting 1.5°C but also limit our reliance on carbon removal technologies.
The report also examines feasible and effective adaptation options for reducing climate change related risks to nature and people. The most effective of these solutions require a systemic and deep-rooted transformation in most aspects of society that go beyond incremental responses. For example, the risk of flooding can be reduced by restoring wetlands and forests around rivers. Food security can be improved by developing crops that are more resistant to weather extremes and by diversifying agricultural practices and using land in a more sustainable way.
What is the EU doing?
Landing in the midst of geopolitical and energy crises, the report reinforces the need for Europe to become climate-neutral and climate resilient, to speed up our clean energy transition, and increase energy efficiency.
The EU is taking decisive action to cut net emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The European Green Deal is a key step towards the ecological and socially just transitions that are needed to secure a sustainable future for all.
Another important part of the European Green Deal is the EU adaptation strategy, with which we are aiming to become more resilient to climate change in a smarter, swifter and more systemic way. The EU is ramping up its efforts to enhance the resilience and preparedness of European society and economy to the impact of climate change – developing more effective risk assessment tools, projections and stress testing. The guidelines for Member States to prepare their national strategies have been revisited to elevate the political status of this work, harmonise action, and make better use of synergies. In addition, the European Commission is working with the European Environment Agency to carry out a European Climate Risk Assessment. This assessment will focus on the intersection of policy and science, to develop a better understanding of how EU policies and instruments can best respond to the evolving climate. The EU Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change contributes to these efforts at a local level by supporting EU regions, cities and local authorities in their efforts to build resilience to the impact of climate change.
The adaptation strategy also calls for more international action on adaptation to climate change. This echoes the IPCC synthesis report, which points out that parts of the world that have historically contributed the least to climate change are often the most vulnerable to it.
The EU and its Member States are the world’s largest contributor of funds for international climate action - they provide at least a third of the world’s public climate finance. The global goal of mobilising USD 100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020, set in 2009 at the UN, is yet to be reached. While we already contribute our fair share, the EU is working closely with international partners to get there.
What is the IPCC?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the United Nations body for assessing climate change science. It produces regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
These reports inform governments in the development of climate policy as well as guiding the UN’s international climate change negotiations. The reports are regarded as the most authoritative assessment of the science of climate change since they bring together hundreds of scientists as authors or reviewers, and their findings are based on the strength of evidence and agreement across all available scientific literature.
EU contribution to the IPCC
This sixth IPCC reporting cycle includes contributions from the panel’s three working groups on the physical science, mitigation of climate change, and impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, as well as three Special reports: Global Warming of 1.5°C, on Climate Change and Land, and on the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.
The EU, through its research and innovation programmes, is among the top funders of the science underpinning the IPCC reports. The 7th Framework Programme and Horizon 2020 have contributed to over 4,500 publications cited in the IPCC reports of the Sixth Assessment Cycle, coming from over 1,200 projects. This is a remarkable result that reflects the quality and relevance of projects receiving EU support.
You can learn about how EU research funding supports the climate science underpinning the IPCC’s work in European Commission’s publications showcasing EU-backed projects that contributed to the Working Group I, II and III: Science for climate action: EU research contribution to IPCC working group I on the physical science basis (europa.eu), EU research contribution to IPCC Working Group II on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (europa.eu) and ‘Science for Climate Action: EU Research Contribution to IPCC Working Group III on Mitigation’.
The European Commission participates in the IPCC’s deliberations the review of its reports. Commission scientists at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) participated in the IPCC assessments as authors, as well as contributing to the body of climate science the panel assessed. This exchange of expertise enriches the body of scientific knowledge that underpins European climate policy.
IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report
- Publication date
- 20 March 2023
- Directorate-General for Climate Action