Press release: 9 August 2021

IPCC report marks ‘final straw’ for hollow climate action: ClientEarth

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of global warming brutally underlines the urgent system-level action needed to address and mitigate climate change, ClientEarth lawyers say.

Despite the Paris Agreement mapping out how best to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the IPCC report forecasts 1.5°C being reached by the mid-2030s.

ClientEarth’s Director of Climate and Energy, Maria-Krystyna Duval, said:

On global climate action:
  • “Global ambitions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement are simply not translating into action fast enough.
  • “Governments, businesses, investors, auditors, banks and international institutions all must act now if we are to avoid catastrophic tipping points. This means reducing emissions immediately and developing meaningful plans to get to net zero.
  • “While the Paris Agreement stipulates that global emissions need to be kept well below 2°C – and 1.5°C if possible – the IPCC report forecasts that we are heading for 3°C at best.”
On the UK and COP:
  • “It is high time for UK leadership to move beyond a talking shop. Right now, a top priority must be setting clear plans for how businesses and financial institutions can meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • “A massive reallocation of capital is needed to get to net zero, which will drastically alter the global financial landscape. To ensure the UK economy remains resilient, strong and meaningful frameworks for Paris-alignment need to be set out – and enforced – that can support the transition to a low-carbon economy.
  • “As the UK prepares to host COP26 this November, this report shows what’s at stake and how important it will be for the UK to show global leadership on climate action.”
On fossil fuels:

To reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – and to limit the worst consequences of climate change – a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy is critical this decade, the report highlights.

  • Duval said: “As if any more proof was needed, these refreshed forecasts boil down to one conclusion: we must move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and consign them to history.
  • “It is astonishing that EU institutions and national governments are even considering more gas pipelines and plants, and bewildering that they are considered ‘low carbon’ in some legal texts.
  • “Whether gas is used for power, transport, plastics or pesticides, its continued exploitation will render the Paris Agreement void, unless decisive action is taken now.”
On greenwashing:

The report notes that the climate crisis is unequivocally caused by human activities, and calls for “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions” in emissions. But the shift towards a low-carbon economy is happening too slowly, and greenwashing threatens to dilute meaningful action.

  • Duval said: “Fossil fuel companies have been incredibly savvy for decades at using climate change rhetoric to promote their own interests. Historically, this has been through supporting climate change denial and lobbying efforts that have presented barriers to climate action.
  • “Now, we are also seeing a rise in greenwashing which further exacerbates the problem. When fossil fuel companies do face up to climate pressures – many are responding to this with misleading claims about their sustainability. This too often acts as a smokescreen as they continue with business as usual.”
On extreme weather and climate impacts:

As governments and businesses drag their feet, the risk climate change poses to people’s lives is becoming worse. The report predicts that warming effects like sea level rise will be greater than expected, affecting hundreds of millions of people who will face unprecedented threats like worsening floods and more severe storms.

  • Duval said: “With fires raging in the US and Turkey, and floods affecting Germany and China, the impacts of global warming are unprecedented and louder than ever before.
  • “No country will be immune to extreme weather events or natural disasters. Yet across the globe, communities least responsible for global warming are the ones who will suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change.
  • “Governments need to wake up and realise that protecting their citizens from climate change impacts is undeniably a human rights issue, and that inaction will have consequences.
  • Governments also need to invest in climate change adaptation measures urgently with the full participation of citizens in the decision-making process.”
On climate attribution science:

The IPCC report is one of the most credible sources of climate science. As the science behind attribution science becomes more accurate – the implications for law and litigation are substantial.

  • Duval said: “As climate attribution science improves, governments and businesses may increasingly be found liable for failure to act on preventable climate-related harm.
  • “The boards of individual fossil fuel companies should be preparing for their day in court, to respond to charges that they are to blame for increased natural disasters and disruptions to the planet's climate stability.
  • "And as this trend continues, courtrooms must also keep pace with the work of attribution scientists, so their judgments are aligned with the latest scientific evidence."
On Australia and the Torres Strait:
  • “The new IPCC report paints a sombre picture of the climate emergency we are facing. It stresses that those least responsible for global warming are the ones who will suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change.
  • “People living in the Torres Strait / Zenadth Kes are on the climate frontline, yet their contribution to global warming is negligible. On the other hand, Australia is a laggard on climate action – with the highest per capita emissions in the world.
  • “For coastal regions like the Torres Strait, the impact of this warming will likely be catastrophic. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide will be at risk from floods and increasingly severe storms brought on by rising sea levels.
  • “Zenadth Kes Islander people cannot wait around any longer – they are watching as their traditional lands and sacred sites are being eroded, and their ability to live on their home islands is at risk.
  • “This is all the more reason why the Australian Government needs to take urgent action to protect its climate-vulnerable citizens. This must include adaptation measures and a commitment to reduce emissions by at least 65% below 2005 levels by 2030, and committing to net zero before 2050.
  • “There should be no doubt that climate change is an urgent human rights issue that needs to be addressed right now. States like Australia have legal duties to protect these rights.”


About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.