The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Comprehensive Summary of Five Years of Climate Change Report
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April 7, 2023
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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Comprehensive Summary of Five Years of Climate Change Report

The viability of our planet and the future of humanity depend on the actions we take within the next few years. 

Highlights of the Report

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just launched its latest report on the climate crisis.
  • The AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 summarizes five years of reports on global temperature rises, fossil fuel emissions and climate impacts.
  • The main findings of the IPCC report and what needs to happen to limit global warming to below 1.5°C.


The viability of our planet and the future of humanity depend on the actions we take within the next few years. 

The IPCC's AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 is nearly 8,000 pages and details the devastating consequences of rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on a global scale. 

The clock is ticking, and there's no time to waste if we want to limit global temperature rise to below 1.5°C. This is the urgent message from the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

Despite progress in policies and legislation around climate mitigation since the previous report in 2014, the report suggests that it's "likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century". 

The report's conclusion is clear: there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all. From the destruction of homes and loss of livelihoods to the fragmentation of communities, the report paints a grim picture of what the future may hold should we fail to take action.

The IPCC also highlights pathways to avoid these intensifying risks and offers hope. It identifies readily available, and in some cases, highly cost-effective actions that can be taken now to reduce GHG emissions, scale up carbon removal, and build resilience. 

How is this IPCC report different from previous ones?

The IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 is the most comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of the state of the climate crisis, drawing on the latest scientific research and data.

It is more detailed and granular in its analysis, providing a more localized view of the impacts of climate change and the potential solutions available.

The sixth assessment places greater emphasis on the social and economic dimensions of climate change, highlighting the disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations and the need for a just transition to a low-carbon economy. 

The most important aspect of this report is that it is more action-oriented than previous IPCC reports, providing specific policy recommendations for governments, businesses, and individuals to address.

Main findings of the AR6 report

The IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023, authored by 39 scientists, is divided into three sections based on timeframes. The Current Status and Trends section looks back through history to the present day, while the Long-term Climate and Development Futures section projects scenarios to 2100 and beyond. 

The Near-term Responses in a Changing Climate section analyzes current international policy timeframes between now and the 2030s.

The report's main findings are alarming but not surprising. Human-caused climate change is already affecting weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, causing widespread loss and damage to both nature and people. GHG emissions will lead to increasing global warming in the near term, and it's likely that the 1

  • Human-caused climate change is already affecting weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, causing widespread loss and damage to both nature and people.
  • GHG emissions will lead to increasing global warming in the near term, and the 1.5°C limit will likely be surpassed between 2030 and 2035, with current climate policies projected to increase global warming by 3.2°C by 2100.
  • The IPCC has "very high confidence" that the risks and adverse impacts from climate change will escalate with increasing global warming.
  • To keep within the 1.5°C limit, emissions need to be reduced by at least 43% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels, and at least 60% by 2035. 
  • Losses and damages will disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable populations, particularly those in Africa and least-developed countries, creating more poverty.
  • Prioritizing equity, social justice, inclusion, and just transition processes would enable ambitious climate mitigation actions and climate-resilient development.
  • Tracked climate finance for mitigation falls short of the levels needed to limit warming to below 2°C or 1.5°C across all sectors and regions.
  • Public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate adaptation and mitigation.
  • To ensure energy systems are net-zero CO2 emitters, there is a need for a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use, minimal use of unabated fossil fuels, and use of carbon capture and storage in the remaining fossil fuel systems. 
  • Energy conservation and efficiency and greater integration across the energy system are also important measures.

Why do we need to listen to the IPCC?

The IPCC is a global organization established by the United Nations (UN) to assess the science related to climate change. It comprises 195 member countries and thousands of experts from around the world who volunteer to objectively assess the latest scientific research and write reports for the IPCC. These reports are then signed off by the governments of member countries.

During the 58th Session of the IPCC, which took place from 13-17 March 2023 in Switzerland, the Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report was approved line by line by governments. 

These reports will shape international climate change negotiations at future COP meetings, which are the decision-making bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

After reading the report, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, said: “Our world is at a crossroads, and our planet is in the crosshairs,” he said. “We are nearing the point of no return, of overshooting the internationally agreed limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. We are at the tip of a tipping point.” 

The report is the outcome of years of efforts written by scientists and approved by government and climate professionals. It is one of the most credible sources of research data collected about the current state of the climate to date. 

Headline Statements

Headline statements provide a concise narrative of the approved Summary for Policymakers, this section is taken directly from the AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 and can be accessed here.

Current Status and Trends

Observed Warming and its Causes

Human activities, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, have caused global warming, leading to a global surface temperature of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels between 2011-2020. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, with unequal contributions from unsustainable energy use, land use, lifestyles, and consumption and production patterns across regions, countries, and individuals.

Observed Changes and Impacts

Climate change has caused widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere, leading to adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people. Human-caused climate change is affecting weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, with vulnerable communities being disproportionately affected.

Current Progress in Adaptation and Gaps and Challenges

Adaptation planning and implementation have made progress across all sectors and regions, with documented benefits and varying effectiveness. However, adaptation gaps exist and will continue to grow at current rates of implementation. In some ecosystems and regions, hard and soft limits to adaptation have been reached, and maladaptation is occurring in some sectors and regions. Global financial flows for adaptation are insufficient and constrain implementation, particularly in developing countries.

Current Mitigation Progress, Gaps and Challenges

So since the AR5, policies and laws addressing mitigation have been expanding consistently. However, according to the NDCs announced by October 2021, it's likely that the earth's temperature will exceed 1.5°C during this century, which makes it more challenging to limit warming below 2°C. There are some gaps between the projected emissions from policies that have been implemented and those from NDCs. Unfortunately, finance flows also fall short of the levels necessary to meet climate goals in all sectors and regions. This is something we have high confidence in.

Future Climate Change, Risks, and Long-Term Responses

Future Climate Change

If greenhouse gas emissions continue, global warming will keep increasing, and it's estimated that we'll reach 1.5°C in the near future. Every increase in global warming will intensify multiple hazards. But, if we make deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, we'll see a measurable slowdown in global warming within about two decades. We'll also see changes in atmospheric composition in a few years. This is something we have a high degree of confidence in.

Climate Change Impacts and Climate-Related Risks

The risks associated with climate change are higher than what was assessed in AR5 for any given level of future warming. The long-term impacts are projected to be multiple times higher than what is currently observed, and these risks and projected impacts increase with every increment of global warming. There's a high degree of confidence that climatic and non-climatic risks will increasingly interact, creating compound and cascading risks that are more complex and difficult to manage.

Likelihood and Risks of Unavoidable, Irreversible or Abrupt Changes

Some future changes are unavoidable and/or irreversible but can be limited by deep, rapid and sustained global greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The likelihood of abrupt and/or irreversible changes increases with higher global warming levels, leading to potentially very large adverse impacts with a higher probability (high confidence). {3.1}

Adaptation Options and their Limits in a Warmer World

Adaptation options that are feasible and effective today will become constrained and less effective with increasing global warming, leading to losses and damages that exceed the limits of adaptation. Maladaptation can be avoided by flexible, multi-sectoral, inclusive, long-term planning and implementation of adaptation actions, with co-benefits to many sectors and systems. 

Carbon Budgets and Net Zero Emissions

Limiting human-caused global warming requires net zero CO2 emissions. Cumulative carbon emissions until the time of reaching net-zero CO2 emissions and the level of greenhouse gas emission reductions this decade largely determine whether warming can be limited to 1.5°C or 2°C (high confidence). Projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure without additional abatement would exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C (50%).

Mitigation Pathways

In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C (>50%) with no or limited overshoot, and those that limit warming to 2°C (>67%), rapid and deep greenhouse gas emission reductions are required in all sectors this decade. Global net zero CO2 emissions must be achieved in the early 2050s and around the early 2070s, respectively. 

Overshoot: Exceeding a Warming Level and Returning

If warming exceeds a specified level such as 1.5°C, it may be possible to gradually reduce it again by achieving and sustaining net negative global CO2 emissions. This would require additional deployment of carbon dioxide removal, compared to pathways without overshoot, leading to greater feasibility and sustainability concerns. Overshoot entails adverse impacts, some irreversible, and additional risks for human and natural systems, the magnitude and duration of which increase with overshoot.

Responses in the Near Term

Urgency of Near-Term Integrated Climate Action

Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health (very high confidence). There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all (very high confidence). Climate resilient development integrates adaptation and mitigation to advance sustainable development for all, and is enabled by increased international cooperation including improved access to adequate financial resources, particularly for vulnerable regions, sectors and groups, and inclusive governance and coordinated policies (high confidence). The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.

The Benefits of Near-Term Action

Deep, rapid and sustained mitigation and accelerated implementation of adaptation actions in this decade would reduce projected losses and damages for humans and ecosystems (very high confidence), and deliver many co-benefits, especially for air quality and health (high confidence). Delayed mitigation and adaptation action would lock-in high-emissions infrastructure, raise risks of stranded assets and cost-escalation, reduce feasibility, and increase losses and damages (high confidence). Near-term actions involve high up-front investments and potentially disruptive changes that can be lessened by a range of enabling policies.

Mitigation and Adaptation Options across Systems

Rapid and far-reaching transitions across all sectors and systems are necessary to achieve deep and sustained emissions reductions and secure a liveable and sustainable future for all. These system transitions involve a significant upscaling of a wide portfolio of mitigation and adaptation options. Feasible, effective, and low-cost options for mitigation and adaptation are already available, with differences across systems and regions.

Synergies and Trade-Offs with Sustainable Development

Accelerated and equitable action in mitigating and adapting to climate change impacts is critical to sustainable development. Mitigation and adaptation actions have more synergies than trade-offs with Sustainable Development Goals. Synergies and trade-offs depend on context and scale of implementation.

Equity and Inclusion

Prioritising equity, climate justice, social justice, inclusion and just transition processes can enable adaptation and ambitious mitigation actions and climate resilient development. Adaptation outcomes are enhanced by increased support to regions and people with the highest vulnerability to climatic hazards. Integrating climate adaptation into social protection programs improves resilience. Many options are available for reducing emission-intensive consumption, including through behavioural and lifestyle changes, with co-benefits for societal well-being.

Governance and Policies

Effective climate action is enabled by political commitment, well-aligned multilevel governance, institutional frameworks, laws, policies and strategies and enhanced access to finance and technology. Clear goals, coordination across multiple policy domains, and inclusive governance processes facilitate effective climate action. Regulatory and economic instruments can support deep emissions reductions and climate resilience if scaled up and applied widely. Climate resilient development benefits from drawing on diverse knowledge.

Finance, Technology and International Cooperation

Finance, technology and international cooperation are critical enablers for accelerated climate action. If climate goals are to be achieved, both adaptation and mitigation financing would need to increase many-fold. There is sufficient global capital to close the global investment gaps but there are barriers to redirect capital to climate action. Enhancing technology innovation systems is key to accelerate the widespread adoption of technologies and practices. Enhancing international cooperation is possible through multiple channels.