Nations are not doing nearly enough to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels within most people’s lifetime, according to a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of researchers convened by the United Nations. Limiting the devastation will not be easy, but neither is it impossible if countries act now, the report says.
The panel produces a comprehensive review of climate science every six to eight years. She divides her findings into three reports. The first thing driving global warming came out last August. The second, on the impact of climate change on our world and our ability to adapt to it, was released in February. This is #3 how we can reduce emissions and limit further warming.
Without quick action, we are headed for trouble.
The report makes clear: Current pledges by nations to curb greenhouse gas emissions will most likely not prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit in the next few decades. And that assumes that the countries stick to it. If they don’t, there’s more warming to come.
That goal – to prevent the average global temperature from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – is one that many of the world’s governments have agreed on. It sounds humble. But that number represents a variety of wide-ranging changes occurring as greenhouse gases trap more heat on the planet’s surface, including deadlier storms, more intense heat waves, rising seas and additional stress on crops. The earth has already warmed by an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 19th century.
Emissions are tied to economic growth and income.
So far, the world is not becoming more energy efficient fast enough to offset continued growth in global economic activity, the report said.
Carbon dioxide emissions from factories, cities, buildings, farms and vehicles increased in the 2010s, outweighing the benefits of converting power plants to natural gas from coal and using more renewable sources such as wind and solar.
By and large, it is the richest people and richest nations that are heating up the planet. According to the report, the richest 10 percent of households worldwide are responsible for one-third to almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions. The poorest 50 percent of households contribute around 15 percent to emissions.
Clean energy has become more affordable.
The prices of solar and wind energy and batteries for electric vehicles have fallen significantly since 2010, according to the report. The result is that in some cases it may now be “more expensive” to maintain highly polluting energy systems than to switch to clean sources, the report says.
In 2020, the sun and wind provided almost 10 percent of the world’s electricity. Average global emissions increased much more slowly in the 2010s than in the 2000s, in part due to greater use of green energy.
The scientists did not realize that this would happen so quickly. In a 2011 report on renewable energy, the same panel noted that technological advances would likely make green energy cheaper, though it’s hard to predict by how much.
However, changing the climate path will not be easy or cheap.
The world must invest three to six times more in climate protection than it currently spends if it is to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, the report says. Money is particularly tight in poorer countries, which will need trillions of dollars in investment every year this decade.
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As nations move away from fossil fuels, some economic disruption is inevitable, the report said. Resources remain unburned in the ground; Mines and power plants become financially unprofitable. The economic impact could be in the trillions of dollars, the report said.
Even so, simply maintaining planned and existing fossil fuel infrastructure will pump enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to make it impossible to keep warming below 1.5 degrees, the report said.
There are other steps that might help that wouldn’t break the bank.
The report looks at a variety of other societal changes that could reduce emissions, including more energy-efficient buildings, more recycling, and more office work done remotely and virtually.
The report emphasizes that these changes do not have to be economic dampening tasks. Some, like better public transportation and more walkable urban areas, have benefits for air pollution and overall well-being, said Joyashree Roy, an economist at Bangkok’s Asian Institute of Technology who contributed to the report. “People are demanding healthier and greener cities,” she said.
Overall, measures that would cost less than $100 per tonne of carbon dioxide saved could cut global emissions to about half of 2019 levels by 2030, the report says. Other steps remain more expensive, such as capturing more carbon dioxide from the gases pouring out of chimneys at power plants, the report said.
The world also needs to remove carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere. Planting more trees is pretty much the only way to do this on a large scale right now, the report said. Other methods, like using chemicals to extract atmospheric carbon or adding nutrients to the oceans to stimulate photosynthesis in tiny sea plants, are still in early development.
“We cannot ignore how much technology can help,” said Joni Jupesta, an author of the report from the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth in Kyoto, Japan. “Not every country has many natural resources.”