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A major climate report is being published – here’s what you need to know

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Stephanie Spera from the University of Richmond explains what you need to know about the upcoming IPCC report and why it’s such a big deal.

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A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalising a report that assesses the state of the global climate. It’s a big deal. The report is used by governments and industries everywhere to understand the threats ahead.

So who are these scientists and what goes into this important assessment?

Get ready for some acronyms. We’re going to explore the upcoming IPCC report and some of the terms you’ll be hearing when it’s released on Monday (9 August).

What is the IPCC?

IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s the United Nations’ climate-science-focused organisation. It’s been around since 1988 and it has 195 member countries.

Every seven years or so, the IPCC releases a report – essentially a ‘state of the climate’ – summarizing the most up-to-date, peer-reviewed research on the science of climate change, its effects and ways to adapt to and mitigate it.

The purpose of these reports is to provide everyone, particularly governing bodies, with the information they need to make important decisions regarding climate change. The IPCC essentially provides governments with a CliffsNotes version of thousands of papers published regarding the science, risks, and social and economic components of climate change.

There are two important things to understand:

  1. The IPCC reports are nonpartisan – every IPCC country can nominate scientists to participate in the report-writing process, and there is an intense and transparent review process
  2. The IPCC doesn’t tell governments what to do – its goal is to provide the latest knowledge on climate change, its future risks and options for reducing the rate of warming

Why is this report such a big deal?

The last big IPCC assessment was released in 2013. A lot can change in eight years.

Not only has computer speed and climate modelling greatly improved, but each year scientists understand more and more about Earth’s climate system and the ways specific regions and people around the globe are changing and vulnerable to climate change.

Where does the research come from?

The IPCC doesn’t conduct its own climate science research. Instead, it summarises everyone else’s.

The upcoming report was authored by 234 scientists nominated by IPCC member governments around the world. These scientists are leading Earth and climate science experts.

This report – the first of four that make up the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report – looks at the physical science behind climate change and its impacts. It alone will contain over 14,000 citations to existing research. The scientists looked at all of the climate science-related research published through to 31 January 2021.

These scientists, who are not compensated for their time and effort, volunteered to read those 14,000-plus papers so you don’t have to. Instead, you can read their shorter chapters on the scientific consensus on topics like extreme weather or regional changes in sea-level rise.

The IPCC is also transparent about its review process, and that process is extensive. Drafts of the report are shared with other scientists, as well as with governments, for comments. Before publication, the 234 authors will have had to address over 75,000 comments on their work.

Government input to these bigger reports, like the one being released on 9 August, is solely limited to commenting on report drafts. However, governments do have a much stronger say in the shorter summary for policymakers that accompanies these reports, as they have to agree by consensus and typically get into detailed negotiations on the wording.

RCPs, SSPs – what does it all mean?

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One thing just about everyone wants to understand is what the future might look like as the climate changes.

To get a glimpse of that future, scientists run experiments using computer models that simulate Earth’s climate. With these models, scientists can ask: if the globe heats up by a specific amount, what might happen in terms of sea-level rise, droughts and the ice sheets? What if the globe heats up by less than that – or more? What are the outcomes then?

The IPCC uses a set of scenarios to try to understand what the future might look like. This is where some of those acronyms come in.

All climate models work a little differently and create different results. But if 20 different climate models are run using the same assumptions about the amount of warming and produce similar results, people can be fairly confident in the results.

RCPs, or representative concentration pathways, and SSPs, or shared socioeconomic pathways, are the standardized scenarios that climate modellers use.

Four RCPs were the focus of the future-looking climate modelling studies incorporated into the 2013 report. They ranged from RCP 2.6, where there is a drastic reduction in global fossil fuel emissions and the world only heats up a little, to RCP 8.5, a world in which fossil fuel emissions are unfettered and the world heats up a lot.

This time around, climate modellers are using SSPs. Unlike the RCPs, which focus solely on greenhouse gas emissions trajectories, the SSPs consider socioeconomic factors and are concerned with how difficult it will be to adapt to or mitigate climate change, which in turn affects greenhouse gas emissions.

The five SSPs differ in what the world might look like in terms of global demographics, equity, education, access to health, consumption, diet, fossil fuel use and geopolitics.

Why should you care?

Look around. Thus far, 2021 has brought deadly extreme weather events around the globe, from extensive wildfires to extreme heat, excessive rainfall and flash flooding. Events like these become more common in a warming world.

“It’s warming. It’s us. We’re sure. It’s bad. But we can fix it.” That’s how sustainability scientist and Lund University professor Kimberly Nicholas puts it.

Don’t expect an optimistic picture to emerge from the upcoming report. Climate change is a threat-multiplier that compounds other global, national and regional environmental and social issues.

So, read the report and recognise the major sources of greenhouse gases that are driving climate change. Individuals can take steps to reduce their emissions, including driving less, using energy-efficient lightbulbs and rethinking their food choices. But also understand that 20 fossil fuel companies are responsible for about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. That requires governments taking action now.

The Conversation

By Stephanie Spera

Stephanie Spera is assistant professor of geography and the environment at the University of Richmond in the US state of Virginia. Her research seeks to understand landscape-level human-environment feedbacks with regard to social, economic and environmental drivers and consequences.



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Big tech’s pro-climate rhetoric is not matched by policy action, report finds | Environment

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The world’s biggest tech companies are coming out with bold commitments to tackle their climate impact but when it comes to using their corporate muscle to advocate for stronger climate policies, their engagement is almost nonexistent, according to a new report.

Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Facebook and Microsoft poured about $65m into lobbying in 2020, but an average of only 6% of their lobbying activity between July 2020 and June 2021 was related to climate policy, according to an analysis from the thinktank InfluenceMap, which tracked companies’ self-reported lobbying on federal legislation.

The report also sought to capture tech companies’ overall engagement with climate policy by analyzing activities including their top-level communications as well as lobbying on specific legislation. It found that climate-related engagement levels of three of the five companies – Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft – had declined compared to the previous year.

Tech companies, which have some of the deepest pockets in corporate America, have been racing to come out with increasingly ambitious climate pledges. Amazon has a target to be net zero by 2040 and to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, and Facebook has a target of net zero emissions for its entire supply chain by 2030.

In 2020, Microsoft pledged to become carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 to have removed all the carbon the company has ever emitted. Apple has committed to become carbon neutral across its whole supply chain by 2030.

And Google has pledged to power its operations with 100% carbon-free energy by 2030, without using renewable certificates to offset any fossil-generated power. “The science is clear, we have until 2030 to chart a sustainable course for our planet or face the worst consequences of climate change,” the Google and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai, said in a video announcing the policy.

Yet this strong pro-climate rhetoric is not being matched by action at a policy level, according to the report. “These gigantic companies that completely dominate the stock market are not really deploying that political capital at all,” said the InfluenceMap executive director, Dylan Tanner.

Tech companies have not been entirely silent. Apple, for example, has expressed support for the Biden administration’s proposed clean energy standard, which aims for all US-generated electricity to be renewable by 2035.

But these efforts are significantly outweighed by those of big oil and gas companies, which have ramped up their climate lobbying over the same timeframe, according to the report. “Most of their political advocacy is devoted to climate change and it’s negative,” said Tanner.

A lack of engagement is especially disappointing given the new momentum around climate action under the Biden administration, said Bill Weihl, a former Facebook and Google sustainability executive and now executive director of Climate Voice, which mobilizes tech workers to lobby their companies on climate action. “The dominant business voice on these issues is advocating against the kind of policies that we need,” he said.

Joe Biden’s $3.5tn budget reconciliation bill, which includes large investments for climate action, is facing fierce opposition from some industry groups. The US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s most powerful business lobbying group, has said it will “do everything we can to prevent this tax raising, job killing reconciliation bill from becoming law”. All of the tech companies, with the exception of Apple, are members of the Chamber.

“Our best chance to lead the planet to safety in the race against climate change is through this reconciliation bill, yet InfluenceMap has shown that big tech is still MIA on climate in Congress,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and longtime advocate for climate legislation.

Microsoft and Apple declined to comment on the report and Alphabet did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Amazon said the company engages at local, state and international levels to “actively advocate for policies that promote clean energy, increase access to renewable electricity, and decarbonize the transportation system”.

A Facebook spokesperson said “we’re committed to fighting climate change and are taking substantive steps without waiting for any legislative action”, adding that the company supports the Paris climate agreement goals and helped found the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.

But these actions are not enough given the scale of the crisis, said Tanner. The UN warned in a report published on Friday that even if current climate emissions targets are met, the world is still on a “catastrophic pathway” for 2.7C of heating by the end of the century. “We’re running out of time,” Tanner said, “physically on climate but also on a public policy level.”

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Some of you have dirty green credentials • The Register

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TechUK – the UK’s digital trade association representing computer giants and start-ups alike – has called on firms to check their green credentials and make sure they stand up to scrutiny.

The warning comes as UK businesses were told to brush up on their eco-claims or risk public humiliation and enforcement action by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Businesses have until the New Year to make sure their environmental claims – such as those regarding energy consumption, packaging, recycling, and product lifecycle assessments – comply with the law and are not simply an exercise in greenwashing.

As part of its efforts to steer companies, the CMA has published a six-point Green Claims Code in a bid to make it clear that anyone spouting eco-friendly claims “must not omit or hide important information” and “must consider the full life cycle of the product.”

The CMA is targeting sectors that some onlookers may regard as low hanging fruit including textiles and fashion, energy-hungry travel and transport, and fast-moving consumer goods.

However, any sector and the companies that operate within it – including tech – could fall within the CMA’s crosshairs.

In a statement, Andrea Coscelli, chief exec of the CMA, said: “We’re concerned that too many businesses are falsely taking credit for being green, while genuinely eco-friendly firms don’t get the recognition they deserve. Any business that fails to comply with the law risks damaging its reputation with customers and could face action from the CMA.”

However, there are worries the new rules may lead to confusion. In its evidence to the CMA, techUK said the six principles set out in the guidance were “not specific enough” and also called for more information to help tech firms. It also warned that different variables made in lifecycle assessments could lead to misleading results [PDF].

In a statement, Susanne Baker, associate director for Climate, Environment and Sustainability, techUK, told us: “The CMA’s guidance is important for any company making a green claim about their services, products and company. With more green claims being made by the tech sector than ever before, it’s absolutely vital that these aren’t deemed to be greenwashing.

“Firms have until the new year to address this and will need to think carefully about any green claim they make, be sure they can substantiate them, that they aren’t misleading, and are truthful and accurate,” she said.

The CMA announced that it was investigating the impact of green marketing on consumers last year when it found that 40 per cent of green claims made online could be misleading – suggesting that thousands of businesses could be breaking the law.

In June, The Register reported how a shortage of plastics – rather than a desire to protect the planet — could be one reason why recycled plastics may be working their way into laptops and other gadgetry.

Amazon recently found itself fending off a whistle-blower’s claims alleging it dumped unsold goods to landfill, and later bragged that it had achieved lower carbon “intensity” in its business practices. The latter claim was shot down by an unimpressed scientist close to The Reg who remarked that the fact Amazon’s business was growing was not “helpful to Earth”, and the fact it polluted less per unit of activity didn’t change the bottom line “which is that they are polluting more this year than they did last year.”

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced the electric car maker will stop accepting Bitcoin payments for its vehicles, due to the “increasing use” of fossil fuels, particularly coal, to support Bitcoin’s electricity-hungry mining and transaction processing.

An Intel sponsored report by non-profit Resilience First, highlighted in June the role of tech in reaching net-zero carbon emission goals. However, making chips has been a dirty business, with a 2002 study concluding that a single 2g semiconductor chip required a whopping 1.6kg of secondary fossil fuels and 72g of chemical inputs to be put into production. ®

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Fivetran nears five times its unicorn valuation as it plans further growth

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The data integration business growing its EMEA HQ in Dublin is set for further expansion following a $5.6bn valuation and key acquisition.

Silicon Valley-headquartered Fivetran has announced $565m in Series D funding alongside a deal to acquire HVR.

This latest funding round sees the automated data integration provider’s value reach $5.6bn just over a year after it first reached unicorn status.

The funding round from new and existing investors included General Catalyst, CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also brought in new investors Iconiq Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity.

In total, Fivetran has raised $730m to date. And in tandem with its Series D funding round, the company also announced a $700m cash and stock deal to acquire data replication business HVR.

‘Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure’
– MARTIN CASADO, A16Z

For Fivetran’s mission to help businesses make use of the data they have, in a way that is quicker and requires fewer resources, HVR brings database replication performance along with enterprise-grade security.

“HVR is a recognised leader for enterprise database replication and shares our same vision – to make access to data as simple and reliable as electricity,” said Fivetran CEO George Fraser. “Their product is the perfect complement to our automated data integration technology and will be instrumental for us to help enterprise organisations that want to improve their analytics with a modern data stack.”

Fraser added that the latest injection of funding from investors will enable the company to expand its capabilities and accelerate its global growth.

Fivetran established its EMEA HQ in Dublin in 2018. The following year, fresh investment saw the company plan to double its Irish workforce. Last summer, a $100m funding round saw these expansion plans furthered.

In terms of market opportunity, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado says Fivetran is a “critical component” of the modern data stack, which represents “a paradigm shift for global enterprises, with billions of dollars of revenue at stake”.

“Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure,” said Casado.

The acquisition deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to close in early October, subject to regular approvals.

Customers from both companies are expected to benefit from each of the business offerings. On the side of Fivetran, this client list includes Autodesk, DocuSign, Forever 21, Lionsgate and Square, while HVR services dozens of Fortune 500 brands.

“Combining HVR and Fivetran will enable a next-generation solution that will better inform business decisions by providing the freshest data available,” said HVR CEO Anthony Brooks-Williams.

“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Fivetran and look forward to what this incredible opportunity will provide for our growing team, partners and customers.”

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