Everything you need to know about the latest IPCC report — the AR6 Synthesis Report

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their latest report today: the AR6 Synthesis Report. But what is the synthesis report? And why does it matter? Here’s a simple overview.

Tabitha Whiting
6 min readMar 20


Today — 20 March 2022 — the IPCC released their latest report.

If you keep up-to-date with the latest news on climate change, it’s likely you’ve seen mention of this floating around news feeds and social media timelines.

But, as with all things climate science, we don’t always do the best job at breaking down what reports like this actually mean.

So let’s break it down — here’s a simple explainer on what the IPCC’s Sixth Synthesis Report actually is, and what the key findings in the report are.

What is the IPCC’s Sixth Synthesis Report?

First things first, a quick overview of what the synthesis report is.

The IPCC is basically a group of scientists who get together every few years to assess all the latest research and findings on all things climate change — known as an ‘assessment cycle’.

They then write and publish assessment reports on the findings of the research — sometimes one big ‘assessment report’ and sometimes multiple ‘assessment reports’ on the big topics that have come to light within the latest research.

So, for instance, the IPCC is currently in its sixth assessment cycle i.e. sixth time going through this process, and there have been three big assessment reports published:

  • The Physical Science Basis of Climate Change (published August 2021)
  • Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (published February 2022)
  • Mitigation of Climate Change (published March 2022)

Once all of the assessment reports in that cycle have been published, there’s a final report within the cycle which is the ‘synthesis report’.

Essentially, the synthesis report looks back at the assessment reports from that cycle and pulls out the most important findings into a much shorter report.

Synthesis reports are primarily aimed at policy makers, so they aim to distil all of that scientific research down into accessible, understandable language that policy makers can use to guide climate policy and action.

Unfortunately, often the synthesis reports are still very long, dense, and scientifically written, so still not particularly accessible to most members of the general public who just want to know what the headlines are on the latest climate research.

The Sixth Synthesis Report comes in at a whopping 8000 pages 🤯

So, with that said, let’s take a look at the most important things you need to know from the sixth synthesis report, released today.

The key findings of the IPCC Sixth Synthesis Report

It’s worth saying that there’s nothing brand new and groundbreaking in the IPCC Sixth Synthesis Report.

The report demonstrates scientific consensus about the primary causes of climate change, its devastating impacts and how they will worsen with continued warming, and the scenarios for minimising further warming.

The IPCC has been publishing reports since the 1990s on climate research, and they’ve essentially been saying that since then.

What differs this time is the ever increasing urgency.

In this report, it’s abundantly clear that climate impacts are already here. They’re already causing major damage to people, ecosystems, and economies across the world. In fact, it shows that impacts in some parts of the world are so severe that they’re no longer avoidable or adaptable. And on top of that, it’s also clear that these impacts will get exponentially worse as warming continues even by a fraction of a degree.

With that said, here’s three key findings of the report:

1. There is a more than 50% chance that we will reach or pass 1.5 degrees of warming between 2021 and 2040

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

1.5 degrees of warming is seen to be the ‘safe’ level of warming. According to the models and scenarios assessed, the IPCC report finds that there is a more than 50% chance that we reach or surpass 1.5 degrees of warming between 2021–40.

As it stands, we are already at 1.1 degrees of warming.

To keep within the 1.5°C limit, emissions need to be reduced by at least 43% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels, and at least 60% by 2035.

That would require a very rapid shift away from fossil fuels, given that on its own the planned emissions of the world’s fossil fuel plants up to 2050 would take us past 1.5 degrees of warming.

And on top of this, the report also highlights that carbon removal is now absolutely necessary to stay within 1.5 degrees of warming. Deep emission cuts are no longer enough to reach climate targets — meaning we also need to see solutions like direct air capture scale up successfully.

2. Climate impacts on people and the environment are more widespread and severe than was anticipated, even at 1.1 degrees of warming — especially for the already most vulnerable nations

Photo by Sadiq Nafee on Unsplash

Already we’re seeing severe water scarcity across the world, extreme storms and flooding, increase in waterborne diseases like malaria, reductions in crop productivity, and many more impacts — which are much more severe than scientists had expected.

The worst impacts are in the most vulnerable nations, causing increased hardship and adding to poverty. Some areas are already reaching the ‘hard limit’ of climate adaptation i.e. the impacts of climate change are now too frequent and severe for any adaptation activity to make a difference. And with each fraction of degree of warming, these impacts will intensify by a vast amount.

The report acknowledges that there must be urgent action to address and minimise the ‘losses and damages’ that these now unavoidable climate impacts cause — requiring compensation from other countries for the losses and damages caused.

3. Solutions for climate adaptation exist, but there needs to be much more finance available to reach the level we need

Photo by James Lo on Unsplash

The report is positive that we have the measures we need to increase resilience to these devastating impacts of climate change — climate solutions which also support equity and social justice, such as:

  • Ecosystem management: protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing ecosystems like forests and mangroves increases carbon removal whilst safeguarding biodiversity and food security.
  • Sustainable agricultural practices: increasing crop diversity, planting trees alongside agricultural land, and other practices can hugely increase the resilience of agriculture, safeguarding food security and income sources.

But, the amount of finance currently available is nowhere near enough to enable these solutions to be implemented at the scale needed.

So, alongside deep emissions cuts and scaling up carbon removal, we also urgently need to mobilise climate finance to minimise the impacts.

Want more detail on the IPCC Sixth Synthesis Report?

This article has deliberately highlighted only the key messages from the IPCC Sixth Synthesis Report — and given that this is a 8000 page report, there’s a lot more to explore.

If you want to dive a little deeper on the report, take a look at the following resources:



Tabitha Whiting

Ramblings on communication and our climate crisis 🌱