Climate change: “Now or never” to avoid climate catastrophe, warns the UN

Mankind has less than three years to halt the rise in planet-warming carbon emissions and less than a decade to cut them by almost half, UN climate experts said on Monday, warning the world of a race to the finish line second to ensure a “livable future”. .

That daunting task is still possible – just barely – but current policies are leading the planet towards a catastrophic rise in temperature, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear.

The nations of the world, they said, are wiring our future straight.

The 2,800-page report — by far the most comprehensive assessment ever produced on how to halt global warming — documents “a litany of broken climate promises,” UN chief Antonio Guterres said in a sharp judgment on governments and industry.

“Some government and business leaders say one thing – but do something else. Put simply, they lie. And the results will be disastrous,” Guterres said.

In recent months, the IPCC has released the first two parts of a trilogy of mammoth scientific assessments of how greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet and what that means for life on earth.

This third report outlines what we can do about it.

“We are at a crossroads,” said IPCC chief Hoesung Lee. “The decisions we make now can ensure a future worth living. We have the tools and know-how needed to limit warming.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said these tools “are firmly within our reach”: “Nations of the world must be bold enough to use them.”

The solutions touch on virtually every aspect of modern life, require significant investment and require “immediate action,” according to the IPCC.

The very first item on the global to-do list is to stop the further increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

That needs to happen before 2025 to have any hope of meeting the less ambitious Paris Agreement warming target of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

So far, warming of just 1.1°C has fueled a wave of deadly extreme weather events around the world.

The report makes clear that investments to reduce emissions will be far less expensive than the costs if global warming is not curbed.

Scientists warn that any rise above 1.5°C risks collapsing ecosystems and triggering irreversible changes in the climate system.

To reach that goal, the report says carbon emissions must fall by 43 percent by 2030 and by 84 percent by mid-century.

“It’s now or never if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” said Jim Skea, professor at Imperial College London and co-chair of the working group behind the report.

“Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across sectors, it will be impossible.”

To do this, the world must radically reduce fossil fuels, which account for the lion’s share of emissions.

Nations should stop burning coal entirely and reduce oil and gas use by 60 and 70 percent, respectively, to meet the Paris targets, the IPCC said, noting that both solar and wind are now cheaper than fossil fuels in many places.

But cutting emissions is no longer enough, the IPCC said. Technologies for removing CO2 from the atmosphere – which do not yet work on a large scale – need to be expanded enormously.

While government policies, investments and regulations will drive emissions reductions, the IPCC made it clear that individuals can also make a big difference.

Reducing long-haul flights, switching to a plant-based diet, green buildings and other measures to reduce energy consumption could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70 percent by 2050.

Those with the most also pollute the most, the report said.

Households whose income is in the top 10 percent globally — two-thirds of them in developed countries — emit up to 45 percent of carbon pollution.

“People of high socioeconomic status disproportionately contribute to emissions and have the greatest potential for emission reductions — as citizens, investors, consumers, role models and professionals,” the IPCC said.

In 2019, when energy use is included, industry accounted for 34 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions; Agriculture, forestry, and land use were 22 percent; transportation 15 percent; buildings 16 percent; and the utility sector 12 percent.

The report’s findings will feed into high-level UN political negotiations, which will continue at COP 27 in Egypt in November.

Recently updated national climate pledges emerging from these talks still leave the 1.5 degree target “out of reach,” the report warned.

With the war in Ukraine spurring efforts in the West to transition from Russian oil and gas, observers should say the report should sharpen nations’ focus on climate commitments.

“For me, as a Ukrainian climate activist, it is heartbreaking to witness a war that has fossil fuel money at its core,” said Olha Boiko, an activist with the Ukraine-based Climate Action Network.

“The money we begged not to invest in dirty energy is now flying over our heads in the form of bombs.” Climate change: “Now or never” to avoid climate catastrophe, warns the UN

Russell Falcon

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