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Illustration by Brian Lutz for Time (Source Photos: Getty Images (2))
May 23, 2022 6:25 AM EDT

Scientists have been collaborating for more than three decades now to understand the greatest peril the earth has ever faced—climate change. Much of that understanding has been made possible by the U.N. climate-­science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In August 2021, the IPCC sounded a dire warning by releasing a report that made headlines across the globe. The report was the result of a gargantuan collaboration between over 200 climate scientists globally, and was informed by over 14,000 scientific papers. Chinese climatologist ­Panmao Zhai and French climate scientist Valérie Masson-Delmotte—the co-chairs of the IPCC’s Working Group 1—steered the enormous undertaking amidst COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, which meant for the first time, this massive piece of work was coordinated completely online. Subsequent reports led by other IPCC working groups have shown the scale of the impacts and the need for rapid action around the globe—together instigating important conversations and urgency among policymakers globally. The documents show a world on the brink, with terrible damage already done, but still some prospect of stopping short of disaster—if, somehow, we can muster the will in the short window of time remaining.

McKibben is an author and an environmentalist

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