Reforest’Action / AR6 Synthesis Report, IPCC 6th Climate Change Report, 2023 : Key findings, policy options and the role of forests
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AR6 Synthesis Report, IPCC 6th Climate Change Report, 2023 : Key findings, policy options and the role of forests

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On Monday, 20 March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [1] published a synthesis report concluding eight years of work by more than 1000 scientists who reviewed over 85,000 publications. This report summarizes the state of knowledge on climate change and its impacts on human societies and ecosystems. It is based on the three parts of the IPCC's 6th assessment report, which will be published in 2021 and 2022[2] on the physical basis of warming, impacts, and solutions. It also considers three special reports on the consequences of 1.5°C warming (2018) on land, the oceans, and the cryosphere (2019).

Considered as a "survival guide for humanity," it identifies significant problems and details the characteristics of the levers for transforming societies and the economy. Drastically and rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions while implementing measures to adapt to climate change is essential. Various feasible, effective, and affordable options for action are available, according to the report's authors - including forest conservation, reforestation, agroforestry, and certain agricultural practices.

The IPCC report identifies responsible forest management and ecosystem conservation and restoration as significant challenges that must be addressed. The solutions are already available to avoid climate chaos. However, as the experts state, the financial flows that must be devoted to them are still far from up to the task.

I. The major issues

The findings of the IPCC include in particular:

1. The unequivocal role of human activities in global warming

Human activities have - "unequivocally" according to the IPCC - caused global warming, mainly through greenhouse gas emissions. From 2011 to 2020, the global surface temperature is 1.1°C higher than between 1850 and 1990. Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise - mainly from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes.

2. Global warming of +1.5°C by 2030

Continued greenhouse gas emissions will increase global warming of up to +1.5°C in the short term, i.e., in the early 2030s. Without reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, all scenarios predict a world at around +2.7°C by the end of the 21st century.

3. Increasing likelihood of abrupt and irreversible changes

The probability of abrupt or irreversible changes - known as "tipping points" - is increasing. Indeed, global warming will lead to irreversible changes such as rising sea levels, the unstoppable collapse of biodiversity, or melting glaciers. In addition, extreme events, such as heat waves, heavy rainfall, droughts, tropical storms, etc., will increase in number and severity due to climate change.

Such climate change threatens the well-being of humanity and the planet. Direct and indirect effects have already been on agriculture, health, and biodiversity. Climate change will also continue to increase food insecurity and affect the security of access to water. In addition, it will lead to the displacement of an increasing number of people in all regions of the world, particularly in small island states. The IPCC also points out that 3 to 3.6 billion people already live in highly vulnerable contexts to climate change.

5. The limits of adaptation

According to the IPCC authors, adaptation has already reached its limits in certain ecosystems and regions already suffering from 'maladaptation[3]. The IPCC thus warns against the dangers of measures that can be counterproductive. Air conditioning is one of the best-known examples, but there are others. For example, building a sea wall to protect against sea flooding caused by rising sea levels can lead to the development of the area most at risk, but without guaranteeing an efficient level of safety.

6. Financial flows remain insufficient

According to the IPCC, insufficient finance and the lack of policy frameworks and financial incentives are the leading causes of the gaps in implementing mitigation and adaptation measures. Financial flows have remained heavily focused on mitigation. They are uneven and have developed heterogeneously across regions and sectors[4]. Climate finance would be more effective through international collaborations and public-private partnerships[5].

II. The IPCC's options for action to mitigate global warming

According to the IPCC synthesis report, "there are many realistic and effective ways to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change." "And they are available now." Systemic transitions are needed.

1. Achieving carbon neutrality

The report is "a message of hope" but calls policymakers to do more and faster, said IPCC Chairman Hoesung Lee. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on rich countries to bring forward their carbon neutrality targets to be "as close as possible to 2040", as opposed to 2050 today, and "defuse the climate bomb."

To limit climate change, global emissions must finally collapse. Then we must achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible: the balance between the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities and what the planet can absorb.

This concept of neutrality implies the notion of carbon sinks and, therefore, potentially, CO2 capture and storage through various solutions such as reforestation.

Finally, the concept of sobriety is put forward in a synthesis report for the first time. Its operational implementation is presented as one of the solutions for achieving carbon neutrality. The potential for reducing emissions varies between 40% and 70% for specific sectors.

• Redirecting funding "Existing fossil fuel infrastructures have a 50% chance of exceeding the carbon budget for limiting global warming to +1.5°C". Therefore, it seems necessary to prematurely close down some fossil fuel-based infrastructures and develop carbon capture and sequestration on those that remain in operation.

• Promoting inclusion, equity, and climate justice.

According to the IPCC, 10% of households contribute 40% of global GHG emissions. However, it is the populations least responsible for emissions that suffer the most from the consequences of climate change.

There is, therefore, a need to promote inclusion, equity, and climate justice that promote adaptation, lower emissions, and resilient human development, particularly in regions and among the highly vulnerable, often the most marginalized.

2. Reconciling mitigation and adaptation efforts

Mitigation and adaptation efforts must be pursued simultaneously, with combined effects.

III. The role of AFOLU (Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use)

1. Forests and other actions valued by the IPCC

According to the IPCC, agriculture, forestry, and other land use options have substantial mitigation and adaptation potential in most regions that could be enhanced in the short term[6].

This is especially true since some options, such as conserving carbon-rich ecosystems - peatlands, wetlands, grasslands, mangroves, and forests - have immediate effects.

Furthermore, restoring dry forests and peatlands and improving the sustainability of managed forests increases the resilience of carbon stocks and sinks. They reduce the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change[7].

Forestry and agriculture are, therefore, areas that are valued in the IPCC recommendations, which promote several practices:

- reducing the conversion of natural ecosystems,

- carbon sequestration in agriculture,

- the restoration of ecosystems,

- reforestation and afforestation,

- improving sustainable forest management,

- the promotion of good agricultural practices aimed at reducing methane and nitrous oxide in agriculture,

- the management of blue carbon ecosystems.

2/ Emission reduction policies and the carbon contribution:

To achieve carbon neutrality, it is essential to reduce emissions at source by limiting the CO2 emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels and to combat deforestation. Among the best solutions for absorbing the greenhouse gases already cast, the IPCC cites reforestation and the protection of forests, using new agricultural methods such as storing CO2 in natural soils or restoring peat bogs.


"Once approved, the synthesis report will become a key policy document for shaping climate action in this pivotal decade," said IPCC Chairman Hoesung Lee. This report should serve as a factual basis for future climate negotiations - at the next COP28, to be held in Dubai from 30 November to 23 December 2023. It should be remembered that this will be the first global assessment of the climate policies implemented in the various countries to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreements.

To "keep" the 1.5°C and 2°C objectives of this Agreement, a 43% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 (compared to 2019) and 84% by 2050 is necessary.

Despite the difficulties, the solutions put forward in this latest IPCC report show that it is still possible to achieve the 1.5°C warming target by 2100 if we act today: "every degree count."

[1] The IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a scientific body created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme. Its members are countries, not individuals: 195 countries are members, which is almost every country in the world. Its mission is "to provide comprehensive assessments of the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge about climate change, its causes, potential impacts and coping strategies". Thousands of IPCC scientists work voluntarily, producing a synthesis of existing scientific literature. However, they do not make recommendations, conduct research, or monitor climate data or parameters.

[2] These three parts are dedicated to: accelerating climate change, adaptation, and solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, initially published between August 2021 and April 2022.

[3] Adaptation that fails to reduce vulnerability but instead increases it (IPCC 2001:990)

[4] Synthesis of the IPCC 6th Climate Change Report, op. cit., p. 28.

[5] Op. cit., p. 28.

[6] O_p. cit_., p. 73.

[7] Op. cit., p. 73.