Another Clunky Sentence

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IPCC Report. Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

The phrase ‘Net Zero by 2050’ comes from an IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 2018 report. The pertinent paragraph reads as follows,

In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range).

(my emphasis)

The readability of this sentence is at the 24th grade level; in other words it is unreadable. Of this sentence the journal Bloomberg Green said,

Like most statements the IPCC sets down, the most important sentence ever written is just terrible—clunky and jargon-filled. What it says, in English, is this: By 2030 the world needs to cut its carbon-dioxide pollution by 45%, and by midcentury reach “net-zero” emissions, meaning that any CO₂ still emitted would have to be drawn down in some way . . .

. . . it may turn out to be the grammatical unit that saved the world. If not, it'll be remembered as the last, best warning we ignored before it was too late.

The IPCC has just released another report in the same series. This one has the subtitle ‘Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’. The Summary for Policymakers — in effect, the Executive Summary — starts with the following paragraph,

This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, ecosystems and biodiversity, and human societies (Figure SPM.1) and integrates knowledge more strongly across the natural, ecological, social and economic sciences than earlier IPCC assessments. The assessment of climate change impacts and risks as well as adaptation is set against concurrently unfolding non-climatic global trends e.g., biodiversity loss, overall unsustainable consumption of natural resources, land and ecosystem degradation, rapid urbanisation, human demographic shifts, social and economic inequalities and a pandemic.

This paragraph is even more clunky — it is now at the 26th grade reading level.

(In spite of the claim that they are considering non-climatic global trends, they have missed the trend that matters most: Peak Oil. If oil supplies are limited and go into decline then maybe global warming will be less severe than the IPCC predicts.)

In spite of its importance, this report will have no meaningful impact on the world at large. The IPCC, and the climate activist community in general, has a huge communications problem.

This morning I was visiting with friends at the local coffee shop. They are all aware that climate change is a real thing, and that “someone needs to do something”. Yet I can all but guarantee that no one in the group was aware of this report. In fact, probably most of them do not know what the IPCC is. The conversation was mostly to do with local issues, various health problems, and the events in Ukraine. Climate issues were nowhere to be seen.

Morocco wildfire. Credit Guardian Newspaper.
Moroccon wildfire. Credit Guardian Newspaper.

This is not to say that there has been no reporting about IPCC at all. For example, the Guardian newspaper published an article entitled IPCC issues ‘bleakest warning yet’ on impact of climate breakdown. But it is unlikely that articles such as this will make a significant dent in public perception to do with climate change.

It is clear by now that publishing lengthy reports is not going to change attitudes. It is also clear that the central message, which is basically one of fear, is not getting through. A new communications and marketing strategy is urgently needed.