Wolfgang Cramer’s first involvement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was in the 90s. He worked on the second assessment report, delivered in 1995, which affirmed the science of anthropogenic climate breakdown. At that point, no one could say they did not know what was happening.
Almost three decades on, Cramer was part of the international scientific team that prepared the sixth IPCC report. Its conclusion, delivered in March, issued human civilisation a bleak “final warning” – the biosphere stands on the brink of irrevocable damage.
Now, as diplomats meet in Dubai for the 28th round of the Cop climate talks, in a year predicted to be the hottest on record, and as carbon emissions continue to rise, Cramer is one of 33 IPCC authors among 1,447 scientists and academics in signing an open letter calling on the public to take collective action to avert climate breakdown.
“We are terrified,” they warn. “We need you.”
“Wherever you are, become a climate advocate or activist,” the letter, published on Monday by Scientist Rebellion, a climate activist group, implores. “Join or start groups pushing for policies that help secure a better future. Contact groups that are active where you are, find out when they meet and attend their meetings.
“If we are to create a liveable future, climate action must move from being something that others do to something that we all do.”
The letter comes as delegates gather in the United Arab Emirates, a country glittering with oil wealth, for Cop28. There they are splitting hairs over whether to “phase out” or “phase down” use of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels, the primary cause of climate breakdown. A fund has been agreed for poorer nations for whom climate-related disasters are already a reality.
Cramer said he and his scientific colleagues were becoming frustrated. “Western governments, European governments, have this tendency to say: ‘Oh, we are already doing so much,’” he told the Guardian. “And yes, of course, we need to applaud that, we need to be happy about every little step in the right direction.
“But I think the failure in communication at the moment is to talk enough about the inadequacy, about the full disconnect, between the engagements that we see by governments at Cops, and in the implementation of their commitments at home, on the one hand, and clear targets of the Paris agreement on the other.”
Ahead of Cop28, the UN Environment Programme issued a stark warning that national carbon-cutting policies are so inadequate that 3C (5.4F) of heating above preindustrial levels would be reached this century – double the 1.5C (2.7F) limit that the Paris climate accords agreed would stave off the most catastrophic effects of climate breakdown.
“No country is taking action in line with a 1.5C pathway,” the Scientist Rebellion letter says. “Continuing on this path will mean untold suffering. Large parts of our planet will become uninhabitable, creating hundreds of millions of refugees, unprecedented famines, and severe political conflicts.”
But “we do not have to surrender to this future”, it insists. “The solutions are available” but their implementation relies on a “large-scale mobilisation of society” to overcome vested interests that profit from the status quo.
Minal Pathak, an associate professor at Ahmedabad University’s global centre for environment and energy and another signatory, was a senior scientist in the technical support unit for working group III of the IPCC’s sixth report, which focused on climate breakdown mitigation. Like Cramer, she too has become frustrated at the apparent impotence of scientists’ warnings. She told the Guardian she was, in fact, angry.
“At one point we would think that writing impactful papers in high quality journals or publishing UN reports the thing, to lay down evidence,” she said. “But apparently that’s not working, right? Or not working as it should. I’m really, really disappointed at the way things are going. I have a teenage daughter, and I’ve seen it happening over a decade. What does it take, really, to take action?”