Credit: Matt Palmer via Unsplash

Demystifying the UN climate report

By Euan Bremmner

The UN issues its latest report outlining the severity of climate change and the implications on the whole of humanity.

On the morning of Sunday 8th August, flooded villages and jet setting holiday-makers alike awoke to gut-wrenching news: the UN had issued its latest and most drastic findings on climate change. The report outlined an abysmal failure of mankind to comprehend the sheer extent of climate change or, indeed, to react to it. The President of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) committee was interviewed shortly afterwards on BBC Radio 4. “We have listened, but we have not heard,” he declared rather ominously. In essence, the report was a statistical migraine about how much we need to do to save our planet, and how rapidly we need to do it.

Foreboding aside, what else does the report tell us? For a start, everywhere in the world is set to experience extreme weather conditions, and to experience these frequently. Recent examples are plentiful: just look at the widespread Californian fires, near 50-degree heat in Sicily, not to mention the massive flooding across the Indian subcontinent. Amongst a host of gloomy admissions it outlined that the COP 21 goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees is now impossible and, as a result, sea levels will rise uncontrollably for centuries to come, regardless of our actions from hereon in. So what can we do?

Students are perhaps the most climate-conscious demographic: we appear to have put our ever-flexible social consciousness to use in attempts to save the planet by means of organisations like – love them or loathe them – Extinction Rebellion. 25% of UK vegans are students, and one need only walk through Hillhead to find the gallery of window signs supporting climate causes. And, with the city hosting the COP 26 climate conference later this year, dubbed “mankind’s last chance” by John Kerry, Glasgow is, for this year anyway, the environmental capital of the world.

A report from Imperial College London states that, as an individual, the best way to minimise your planetary footprint is to: reduce your meat and dairy consumption, cut back on flying and driving, and try to reduce household energy use. One small change to man, one gigantic saving change for mankind.

Another issue is meat farming. 27% of global greenhouse gas methane production comes from cattle. This, in addition to the land clearing (often deforestation) and crop needed just to rear cattle, make the animals one of the planet’s greatest killers. As if that wasn’t enough, one fifth of meat produce, chiefly beef, is wasted each year. Eating less meat would lessen the demand, and perhaps then the solution is simply for individuals to make small dietary changes within their lifestyles.

At the very least the UN report tells us that more needs to be done, and drastically. The Covid-19 epidemic has demonstrated that when faced by a drastic threat, mankind is very capable of drastic changes to lifestyle. So if the pandemic is to serve a positive purpose, let us hope that it is to make people conscious of the interconnectivity our lives now have, both with other people, and our planet, and how, by coming together with a common goal, nothing is beyond our capacity for change. Perhaps the greatest success of our generation won’t be men on Mars or a cure for cancer, but rather stopping the greatest existential threat to life itself.


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