The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations (U.N.) body that assesses climate change science, published last month a comprehensive report on our current knowledge of the climate. Across its 8,000 pages, the AR6 synthesis report presents recently collected data on the consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions, but sends the same fundamental message as the last five assessment reports: policy changes that limit the disastrous effects of climate change must be implemented immediately.
The new report, a collaboration between U.N. climate scientists from 195 countries, represents a unified response by diverse perspectives from the scientific community on the human exacerbation of climate change, according to Peter Armbruster, a professor in Georgetown’s department of biology.
“We have a better handle on the historical climate record and that allows us to conclude with more confidence that the current changes to the climate that we’re seeing are specifically due to anthropogenic causes,” Armbruster told The Hoya.
One of the main takeaways from the report is that humans have already caused a 1.1 degree Celsius increase in global temperature. While this increase may seem insignificant, this slight change can have devastating impacts on biological communities and processes.
In a press conference, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that devastating, irreversible damage will occur worldwide if stronger action is not taken on climate change immediately.
“We are on a fast track to climate disaster: major cities underwater, unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages, and the extinction of millions of plants and animals,” Guterres said.
The global temperature is rapidly approaching the target limit set by 195 countries in the Paris Agreement, a monumental 2015 U.N. international treaty on climate change that aimed to keep temperatures within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels.
“At this point, we should recognize that staying below 1.5 degrees is not feasible,” Claudia Tebaldi, an AR6 co-writer, told The Hoya.
“The only way to stay below 1.5 degrees is to immediately reduce very strongly our emissions, and we know that is not going to happen.”
The report explains that rising global temperatures have already caused more disastrous effects than expected, including ocean acidification, rising sea levels and the spread of disease, with less-developed countries bearing the brunt of these impacts.
“The really tragic thing about this is that the countries that are doing the most emissions are the ones that are being affected the least in the immediate short term,” Armbruster said. “There’s a real social injustice there.”
While the scientific knowledge surrounding the dangers of climate change and predictions about its devastating effects have been well documented since the first AR6 report was released in 1990, policymakers are still neglecting to respond to the same call to action, according to Armbruster.
“We really do need an increased sense of urgency. We’ve been saying this for a long time, and nothing’s really changed.”
One potential reason for the lack of action is the false sense of security that prevents citizens from fully grasping the gravity of looming climate change disasters, according to environmental biology major Sean Cole (CAS ’25).
“Part of the problem is that sometimes the people making the policy decisions aren’t seeing the effects of climate change directly, they’re just hearing about them,” Cole told The Hoya. “It’s one thing to hear facts about the destruction climate change has caused, and it’s another thing to live it.”
Armbruster said that with the knowledge from the most recent AR6 report, policymakers and citizens have the capacity to change the trajectory of warming by reducing their respective states’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have it within our power to get a handle on this problem and prevent it from becoming catastrophic, but to do that we need to act yesterday,” Armbruster said. “The longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be to solve.”
He added that policymakers must also pass laws that disincentivize use of fossil fuels and incentivize clean energy sources.
“You can’t expect people to do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Armbruster said. “We need to develop incentive structures to make it in people’s best interest to engage in practices that will lead to reduced emissions.”
The report recommends that governments invest in adaptation strategies and support for affected and vulnerable communities. However, the solution to climate change is not just dependent on policy changes from the top down, Tebaldi said.
“We as consumers but also voters can make decisions that will have an impact,” Tebaldi said. “It’s not true that we should feel powerless. Each one of us as an individual is powerless, but if you start summing up the actions of many individuals, things will change.”