‘There’s no more time to waste’: IPCC report

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

13/08/2021 3:36:18 PM

GP Dr Jessica Kneebone says it is time for governments to take action, warning that people’s health is at risk.

A firefighter attending to a bushfire.
Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, if it continues to increase at the current rate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report, released on 9 August, has been described as the most sobering yet.
Hundreds of scientists who contributed to the final 3900-page report confirmed that global temperatures are rising at dangerous levels, and could exceed the 1.5°C limit set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement by the 2030s.
As a result, many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions ‘are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level’, the report states.
If governments fail to take immediate action to significantly reduce emissions, the report holds firm that there will continue to be an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, bushfires, flooding and droughts
Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Environmental Impacts in General Practice, Dr Jessica Kneebone, told newsGP she has been left ‘frightened and alarmed’ by the report’s findings.
‘I guess it’s not unexpected given policy action has been slow in our country,’ the Tasmania-based GP said.
‘To me, it just really reaffirms that the science is clear. We’ve got the timeframe in that the next decade is really critical, and there’s no more time to waste with weak policy action.
‘We need really strong ambitious climate action to minimise the risk of warming and lower our greenhouse emissions as rapidly as we can.’
According to the report, Earth has warmed on average by 1.1°C since 1850–1900, of which 1.07°C is the result of greenhouse gas emissions associated with human activities.
Compared to the average, warming in Australia has already reached 1.4°C, resulting in hotter temperatures, longer fire seasons, lower rainfall and rising sea levels, with some parts of the country affected more than others. 
Based on current climate pledges around the world, the IPCC has determined that warming could reach up to 1.8°C between 2021–2040, up to 2.5°C between 2041–2060, and up to 3.5°C by 2100.
Dr Kneebone says addressing climate change must be viewed as a health emergency in the same way as it has been with COVID-19.
She says GPs are already seeing the impacts firsthand, with research showing almost 80% of Australians were affected in some way following the 2019–2020 summer bushfires.
‘The risks of climate change to human health are absolutely massive,’ Dr Kneebone said.
‘There are health risks from air pollution, heat, direct fire impacts, loss of housing, mental health effects from the fallout – and I’m just talking about fires here.
‘With flooding comes loss of livelihood and houses, loss of lives, and risk of water contamination. Then there’s the agricultural impacts.
‘There are just so many ripple effects … this is something that’s directly and indirectly going to increasingly impact human health, and we will be seeing these issues more and more as GPs.’
A study, published this month, found Australians are almost three times as concerned about climate change as they are about COVID-19.
While countries including the US, UK, Germany and Japan have committed to a net-zero target by 2050, Australia’s existing pledge is to cut carbon emissions by 2030 to 26–28% below 2005 levels.
The IPCC report makes clear however, that if net zero emissions are met by 2050 warming can likely be kept below 2°C.
IPCC Chair Professor Mark Howden said changes need to be implemented rapidly.
‘We really need to be heading towards 45% reduction by 2030 and keeping that going post 2030,’ he told the ABC.
‘At the moment, those emission reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement are not sufficient to keep temperatures down to 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.’
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made headlines by branding the report a ‘code red for humanity’. He called on global leaders to combine their efforts to ‘avert climate catastrophe’.
‘The solutions are clear,’ he said.
‘Inclusive and green economies, prosperity, cleaner air and better health are possible for all if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage.
‘All nations, especially the G20 and other major emitters, need to join the net zero emissions coalition and reinforce their commitments with credible, concrete and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and policies before COP26 in Glasgow.’
Dr Kneebone says governments need only take heed from the lessons learnt from the pandemic.
‘There are parallels,’ she said. ‘You act on the science, you act on the evidence, and there are much better outcomes.
‘We really need to end the fossil fuel industry in Australia, and we need to do that quickly and shift to renewables. These are solutions that we can do, but it’s governments that have been reticent and slow to take these solutions up.
‘It’s indefensible really. In the long run, they’re putting the health of not just Australians, but the health of the whole planet, at grave risk.’
What has really struck Dr Kneebone is that the conversation is no longer about the impact on future generations, but the here and now.
While she acknowledged that many may be feeling ‘defeated and hopeless’ by the report, she says everyone has their own role to play.
‘Even though you feel like you may not be making an impact in the face of the gravity of the problem, you will have ripple effects with the community around you, with your patients and with other staff members,’ she said.
Another option for GPs interested in taking action is to join the RACGP’s Environmental Impacts in General Practice specific interest group.
‘We are working on a number of projects,’ Dr Kneebone said. ‘So it’s a good group to be part of to help people feel like they’re channelling some of their despair into action.’
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Dr Marjorie Cross   17/08/2021 7:30:50 AM

It would be useful to know what these projects are - see last paragraph.
The world is dealing with a major health emergency with the Climate Crisis and I would expect that the RACGP leadership team could to make a wider response to the IPCC Report , especially since the report shows Australia is warming faster than other countries and lagging behind in a response