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New report reveals top 10 insights in climate science in 2020

A new report by leading international scientists and presented to the UN reveals 10 important insights on the climate over the last year that can help drive collective action on the ongoing climate crisis and help build momentum for a successful outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.

Amazon rainforest
The Amazon rainforest

In the “10 New Insights in Climate Science 2020 report, the authors outlined some of 2020’s most important findings within the field of climate science, ranging from the need for aggressive greenhouse gas emission cuts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, to the growing use of human rights litigation to catalyse climate action.

The report was presented on Wednesday, January 27, 2021 to UN Climate Chief Patricia Espinosa, who underlined the critical importance of a successful UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

“COP26 is about more than the climate change agenda. It’s the world’s chance to renew confidence and credibility in multilateralism, and at the same time provide tangible evidence of the value of international collaboration at a time the world needs it most,” she said.

The report was prepared by a consortium of 57 leading researchers from 21 countries. As a partnership of Future Earth, the Earth League, and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), the series synthesises the latest sustainability research for the international science-policy community, with annual instalments since 2017.

Frameworks for climate policies agreed at the international level are underpinned by the best available – and the most recent – climate science. Whilst the seminal reports issues by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) spell out long-term trends, the findings put forward by the scientific group provide important shorter-term updates.

Several growing risk factors are highlighted in the report, including emissions from permafrost that are currently not considered, concerns about weakening carbon uptake in land ecosystems, and climate change impacts on freshwater and mental health.

This year’s top insights in climate science are:

  • Improved understanding of Earth’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide strengthens support for ambitious emission cuts to meet the Paris Agreement.
  • Emissions from thawing permafrost likely to be worse than expected.
  • Tropical forests may have reached peak uptake of carbon.
  • Climate change will severely exacerbate the water crisis.
  • Climate change can profoundly affect our mental health.
  • Governments are not seizing the opportunity for a green recovery from COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 and climate change demonstrate the need for a new social contract.
  • Economic stimulus focused primarily on growth would jeopardise the Paris Agreement.
  • Electrification in cities pivotal for just sustainability transitions.
  • Going to court to defend human rights can be an essential climate action.

“Because we all share the same small planet, and there are planetary boundaries, we cannot rely on nature to support us if we do not support nature,” said Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-chair of the Earth League. “From all these scientific insights, one political insight should arise: if we want to have a chance of stabilising our climate, for the sake of our own safety, the last chance to reduce greenhouse gases is now.”

“This series is a critical part of our mission to get the latest science to decision makers in an accessible format to help accelerate transitions to sustainability,” said Wendy Broadgate, Future Earth Global Hub Director, Sweden. “Worsening wildfires, intensifying storms, and even the ongoing pandemic are all signals that our relationship with nature is deteriorating, with deadly consequences.”

2021 will be a critical year to act if the world is to achieve the Paris Agreement targets. The estimated investment costs in 2020-2024 to deliver on the Paris Agreement are estimated to be only roughly half of the post-pandemic stimulus packages that have been announced so far.

However, the report points out that governments are not seizing the opportunity to make a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, with statistics showing, for example, that G20 governments are committing 60% more to fossil fuel-based activities than to sustainable investments.

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