IPCC report leaves door ajar to prevent worst impacts of climate change
The last chapter in a trio of reports from the UN's top climate scientists has landed, accompanied by a stark warning from the authors that it is now a case of "now or never" to avoid the worst effects of global warming. But the scientists also note some reasons for optimism, mounting an argument that the window is still open for meaningful action and that we have the tools at our disposal to halve carbon emissions by 2030.
Titled "Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change," the report released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the last in a set of three outlining the dangers of unabated global warming. The first, published last year, examined the physical science of climate change and warned of increasing natural disasters such as floods and heatwaves. The second, published in February, focused on adaptation and the regions of the world most and least equipped to deal with the effects of climate change.
The latest looks at opportunities for action, pointing to decreasing costs of solar and wind energy, along with the batteries to store it. Other positive signs include policies and laws increasingly aimed at ramping up the deployment of renewable energy, improving energy efficiency and reducing deforestation.
“We are at a crossroads," said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. "The decisions we make now can secure a livable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming. 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.”
While the authors see a glimmer of hope, they are under no illusions as to the urgency and magnitude of the task in front of us. They say that to limit warming to the 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial levels outlined in the Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions would need to peak at 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43 percent by 2030, while cutting methane emissions by around a third. Carbon dioxide emissions would then need to reach net zero by around 2050.
As for where the reductions may come from, the scientists say there are opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint of all sectors. Alternative fuels such as hydrogen and electrification of certain industries can help on the energy side of things, while creating compact and walkable cities can reduce the carbon footprint of urban areas.
The more efficient use of materials through reusing and recycling products, minimizing waste, and developing new production processes for chemicals, steel and other building materials will also need to play a part. The authors also point to the ability of agriculture and forestry to not only offer large-scale emission reductions but remove and store carbon at the same time.
“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.”
While it strikes a more positive tone than the previous two, this third report is of course overshadowed by the dire state of the climate, and the catastrophic consequences that are likely to come. The report also shows that harmful carbon emissions have never been higher than they were between 2010 and 2019, with UN Secretary-General António Guterres warning that we're on a "fast-track" to disaster, noting we're on a path to global warming of more than double the 1.5 °C limit laid out in the Paris Agreement.
“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.”
A video trailer for the report can be viewed below, while it can be accessed in full online here.