The long awaited report on the steps the world needs to take to combat climate change has been published with a warning that countries need to do more as the world faces becoming uninhabitable.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its findings on progress made to limit emissions and the mitigation options available in different sectors.
At the heart of the world’s strategy has to be a move away from fossil fuels and with it a reduction in emissions. This will need to go hand in hand with a global effort to remove CO2 from the atmosphere
It’s the third and final part of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report (AR6), which has compiled and assessed the newest climate science to give policymakers an up-to-date picture of the current position, which it says is increasingly perilous.
The report is the work of a collaboration between hundreds of scientists, with the report then having been approved by governments around the world.
The report described the next few years as “critical” to securing a liveable future for the planet and those on it.
“In the scenarios we assessed, limiting warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030; at the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third,” it stated. “Even if we do this, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to below it by the end of the century.”
“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F),” said IPCC Working Group III co-chair Jim Skea. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”
UN secretary-general, António Guterres, insisted that unless governments everywhere reassess their energy policies, the world will be uninhabitable.
Unless action is taken soon, some major cities will be under water, Guterres with forecasts of “unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals”.
He added: “This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree (Celsius, or 2.7-degrees Fahreinheit) limit” that was agreed in Paris in 2015.
The IPCC said global temperature will stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero. For 1.5°C (2.7°F), this means achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2°C (3.6°F), it is in the early 2070s.
“This assessment shows that limiting warming to around 2°C (3.6°F) still requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest and be reduced by a quarter by 2030,2 it added.
The IPCC explained in 2010-2019 average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed.
It warned without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach. However, there is increasing evidence of climate action.
Since 2010, there have been sustained decreases of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy, and batteries. An increasing range of policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy.
“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said IPCC chair Hoesung Lee. “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”
Limiting global warming will require major transitions in the energy sector, said the report. This will involve a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels (such as hydrogen).
“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III co-chair Priyadarshi Shukla. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”
Reducing emissions in industry will involve using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimising waste. For basic materials, including steel, building materials and chemicals, low- to zero-greenhouse gas production processes are at their pilot to near-commercial stage.
This sector accounts for about a quarter of global emissions. Achieving net zero will be challenging said the report and will require new production processes, low and zero emissions electricity, hydrogen, and, where necessary, carbon capture and storage.
“Agriculture, forestry, and other land use can provide large-scale emissions reductions and also remove and store carbon dioxide at scale,” it added. “However, land cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors. Response options can benefit biodiversity, help us adapt to climate change, and secure livelihoods, food and water, and wood supplies.”
“Without taking into account the economic benefits of reduced adaptation costs or avoided climate impacts, global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be just a few percentage points lower in 2050 if we take the actions necessary to limit warming to 2°C (3.6°F) or below, compared to maintaining current policies,” added Shukla.
“Climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production,” said Skea. “This report shows how taking action now can move us towards a fairer, more sustainable world.”
Irish Minister for Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan said the report showed that “doing nothing is not an option and that the “science is unequivocal that if we don’t make these changes”, the “consequences of not bringing our emissions down” would be drastic.