World can still avoid worst of climate collapse with genuine change, IPCC says
Avoiding the worst ravages of climate breakdown is still possible, and there are “multiple, feasible and effective options” for doing so, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said.
Hoesung Lee, chair of the body, which is made up of the world’s leading climate scientists, made clear that – despite the widespread damage already being caused by extreme weather, and the looming threat of potentially catastrophic changes – the future was still humanity’s to shape.
“[The IPCC reports] clearly show that humanity has the knowhow and the technology to tackle human-induced climate change. But not only that. They show that we have the capacity to build a much more prosperous, inclusive and equitable society in this process.
“Tackling climate change is a hard, complex and enduring challenge for generations. We, the scientific community, spell out the facts of disheartening reality, but we also point to the prospects of hope through concerted, genuine and global transformational change.”
Finance would be key, he said. The shift to a low-carbon economy would take between three and six times the amounts of funding currently devoted to green investment, according to the final section of the IPCC’s comprehensive sixth assessment report (AR6) of human knowledge of the climate.
Climate justice would also be vital, the IPCC said, because the people being hit hardest by the impacts of the crisis were the poorest and most vulnerable who have done least to cause the problem.
Aditi Mukherji, one of the 93 authors of the “synthesis report”, the final section that draws together the key findings, said: “Almost half the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change. In the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions.”
This positive framing of a report that makes mostly very grim reading was a deliberate counterblast to the many voices that have said the world has little chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C above preindustrial levels, the threshold beyond which many of the impacts of the crisis will rapidly become irreversible.
Chris Jones, of the Met Office Hadley Centre, a member of the report’s core writing team, pointed out that emissions fell by 6% in 2020 owing to the Covid-19 lockdowns, and a similar fall would be needed each year for the next decade. “The scale of the challenge is massive,” he said. “If we keep emitting at the current rate, the carbon budget for 1.5C will be exhausted by 2030.”
Monday’s publication may be the last this decade from the IPCC, which was set up in 1988 to assess global knowledge of the climate and advise on how human actions have been changing it. The IPCC AR6 report, which was delayed slightly owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, was published in three main sections from August 2021 to April 2022. The first three sections covered the underlying science of the climate system, the impacts of climate breakdown and the ways of tackling or reducing the problem, followed by Monday’s synthesis chapter drawing the previous three together.
IPCC scientists and climate experts emphasised that this decade would be crucial, as decisions made now would affect the future of the planet for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years.
Simon Stiell, the UN’s top climate official, said: “We are in a critical decade for climate action. Global emissions need to be reduced by nearly 43% by 2030 for the world to achieve the Paris agreement’s goal to limit global temperature rise to 2C and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C. The synthesis report highlights just how far off-track we are.”
But he added: “It’s not too late. The IPCC clearly demonstrates that it is possible to limit global warming to 1.5C with rapid and deep emissions reductions across all sectors of the global economy. It has given us many feasible, effective and low-cost mitigation and adaptation options to scale up across sectors and countries.”
The message of action, rather than despair, was also taken up by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres. He called for countries to adopt an “acceleration agenda” involving all of the G20, the world’s biggest developed and developing countries.
Developed countries must bring forward their commitments on reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions, from 2050 to “as close as possible to 2040”, said Guterres.
Emerging economies, many of which have set net zero targets for the second half of this century, must also bring them forward, to “as close as possible” to 2050, he urged. This would require a major revision by some of the world’s biggest emitters: China currently has a target of before 2060, and India of 2070.
Guterres also called for developed countries to phase out coal by 2030, and all others by 2040. He called for no new licensing or funding of oil and gas projects, based on the findings of the International Energy Agency that all new oil and gas development must cease for the world to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Achieving this will be a stretch, and many governments are likely to ignore these pleas, at least in the short term. Many experts were keen to point out that the price of renewable energy technology has fallen rapidly, making it a more attractive investment. But oil and gas companies have also been enjoying a record bonanza, and many are planning to reinvest the proceeds in more fossil fuels.
Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change in the UK, said: “António Guterres is right to say that we need to rapidly increase the pace and urgency of the fight against the climate crisis.
“In Britain, we have a Conservative government whose net zero strategy is so bad that it has been declared unlawful. The tragedy is that the Conservatives are holding us back from reaping the benefits of the green transition – lower energy bills, millions of good jobs, and a livable future for our children and grandchildren.
“Labour will make Britain world leader in tackling the climate crisis, with our plan to make Britain a clean energy superpower by 2030, and by leading a clean power alliance across the world to create cleaner, greener energy.”