Why we’re not waiting for the IPCC to call for climate restoration
If you’ve been reading the news, you probably heard that, on Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first installment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis. If you’ve read the report and accompanying coverage, you may have noticed the absence of any mention of climate restoration.
The IPCC report outlines the rapidly intensifying impacts of climate change and makes clear that prior goals and timelines for mitigating climate change have long since passed. It implicitly underscores the importance of climate restoration: although sustained reductions of CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases can slow climate change, we can still expect global warming of 1.5°C — or even 2°C — by the end of this century.
While these dire predictions support the importance of climate restoration, the report does not mention it, and folks have been asking us why this is.
Truthfully, we at the Foundation for Climate Restoration (F4CR) aren’t holding our breath. That’s not for lack of faith in the IPCC; in fact, we see the work of the IPCC as critical for aligning and bringing the global community up to speed on the most advanced science around climate change. However, there are two main reasons that we don’t expect the IPCC to take up the call for climate restoration anytime soon: 1) the IPCC focuses on science, not policy, and 2) the IPCC relies on existing scientific research to back up its reports.
1) The IPCC focuses on science, not policy.
The IPCC serves as a global scientific authority on climate change modeling and prediction. According to the Science Council, science can be defined as, “the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.” Note that this and other definitions point to knowledge and understanding, not to determining how to respond to the phenomena being studied. The IPCC’s role is not to tell governments what to do. Fundamentally, climate restoration is a political and engineering goal, so it isn’t within the purview of a scientific body to promote it.
2) The IPCC relies on existing scientific research to back up its reports.
Another reason that the IPCC is unlikely to take on climate restoration anytime soon is that the body does not conduct its own scientific research. Rather, its reports are built on comprehensive reviews of state-of-the-art research from around the world. As of this writing, there is hardly any scientific literature about climate restoration, so the IPCC would be hard-pressed to find enough data to build a robust report.
Why isn’t there more scientific research about climate restoration?
Again, there isn’t extensive scientific research about climate restoration because it is a policy and engineering goal. One might use science to develop a model of what it would look like to restore the climate (indeed, some have begun to develop these models already), but restoring the climate requires a blend of engineering (“What would it take to get to point x given y parameters?”) and policy to be fully realized.
It’s time for more ambitious policy goals.
As this IPCC report emphasizes, policy has historically done too little too slowly, and climate models have failed to predict just how devastating the impacts of climate change have actually been. In light of this, we shouldn’t wait on scientists to refine their models and lose us precious time to act. It’s time to implement more ambitious goals now.
It is the responsibility of citizens and legislators — and each inhabitant of this planet — to advocate for the implementation of policies that reflect the outcome we want and not the future that is currently predicted. While science can model and predict what the future will look like on various trajectories, only policy can shift our global trajectory and put us on a better path.
We at F4CR recognize that climate restoration is the paradigm shift required to reverse the devastating effects of climate change and protect our planet for future generations.
Even if we fall short of the goal — as we historically have — we will be in far better shape than our current path would predict.