The latest installment of the UN IPCC climate change report, released yesterday, "makes it very clear that we face an issue of global willpower, not capacity," says Secretary of State John Kerry.
Here’s a summary:
Climate change is advancing rapidly and the world is not acting on par with what this emergency demands.
It will get unimaginably worse unless the world responds much
more aggressively NOW.
The solutions are readily available and still affordable. But time is short. "At present, emissions are not on track for stabilization let alone deep cuts," the report states.
The good news is that the technologies needed are now much more affordable than in 2007, when the last IPCC update was released. Increasing energy efficiency through building codes and vehicle efficiency standards can significantly reduce
emissions without interfering with people’s quality of life, and renewable energy, such as wind and solar, are ever-cheaper.
"Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change" is the third installment of a 4-part update, the first since 2007. The previous installment, released just weeks ago, updates research on climate impacts. This installment addresses mitigation strategies and the final report, due in October, will synthesize all four installments.
This report focuses on how to prevent runaway global warming – and what that will cost.
No More Easy Targets
Without efforts to significantly cut emissions, global temperatures are on track to hit a staggering 4.8°C above preindustrial levels by 2100, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and ecosystems.
"Climate policies in line with the 2°C goal [450ppm] need to aim for substantial emission reductions," says Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the report’s working group. "There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual."
Indeed, the press release starts by saying: Despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change,
emissions keep rising to unprecedented levels. They grew faster from 2000-2010 (2.2% a year) than in each of the preceding three decades (1.3% a year), and grew the most in 2010 and 2011, at 3%.
Even the recession didn’t cut emissions as much as expected and the trend line remains upward, mostly from additions of coal-fired power plants, especially in China and India (for factories that make goods shipped to the US and Europe). 1,000 more are under construction.
Still, it is possible to constrain average global temperature growth to 2°C – using readily available technologies and measures that change behavior – but at this point major change is required.
Global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut 40-70% from 2010 levels and must be near-zero by 2100.
For the first time, the report says, "It may be necessary to remove carbon from the atmosphere."
Even if the world decided on a target of 3-4°C, the same emission cuts would be
necessary because climate change is so far advanced.
How Mitigation Can Be Achieved
To stabilize the level of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, emissions must be reduced in every sector of society: energy production and use, transport, buildings,
industry, land use, and human settlements.
They point to land use – slowing deforestation and restoring
forests – as a way to stop or even reverse those emissions.
"Through afforestation, land could be used to draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."
Scientists call for "a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero and low carbon energy supply from renewables", with more "rapid improvements of energy efficiency" by 2050. No single technology is sufficient, a portfolio of options is required.
"Renewable energy has the potential to more than meet global energy demand," says the report.
They emphasize the importance of quickly addressing climate forcers – short-lived pollutants such as black carbon soot, methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Doing so would improve human health, food and energy security, while slowing the current rate of climate change in half by 2050.
"The core task of climate change mitigation is decoupling greenhouse gas emissions from the growth of economies and population," says co-chair, Youba Sokona. "Through
providing energy access and reducing local air pollution, many mitigation measures can contribute to sustainable development."
Substantial financial investments are required, but the faster we invest, the less expensive it will be.
Spending on fossil fuel plants must drop $30 billion a year by 2030 and rise by $147 billion a year for renewables. Spending on energy efficiency for transportation, buildings and industry needs to increase by $336 billion.
Diverting money from fossil fuels to renewable energy and efficiency would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%, they conclude.
And that doesn’t include the vast economic (and health) benefits of successfully curbing climate change, from the transition to a wide array of new, job-creating, clean industries to
preventing an endless series of ever-more severe, expensive weather events and their consequences.
This transition is affordable and people will not have to sacrifice their aspirations for improved standards of living," says co-chair Jim Skea.
It is not clean energy that’s costly, inaction is.
At this week’s biannual World Bank meeting in Washington DC, its President, Jim Yong Kim, said, "We are here altogether because we know the world needs to fight climate change with much, much more seriousness. Despite the fact that it is controversial, we have to tackle the issue of carbon pricing."
It’s not controversial among finance and environmental ministers, says Rachel Kyte, Special Envoy for Climate Change for the World Bank. "It is practical. "A lot of countries are moving quite quickly to make sure there is an effective price on carbon, and they’re doing it in different ways."
Capitalizing the Green Climate Fund is absolutely essential to reaching an international climate treaty in 2015, says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and he’s counting on them to deliver that $100 billion a year.
"Public policy must pave the way," Ban says. "I have been meeting during the last two or three years many business leaders, including from pension funds and the business community. And all business leaders say they are ready to finance a green economy but they need clear direction and predictable policies from governments."
Thankfully, China’s coal use could peak by 2020. It is tapering off, growing 2.6% last year, down from 9.4% in 2011, according to Greenpeace, which means world emissions could soon plateau.
The final conclusion for IPCC is that the world must cooperate to stabilize our common atmosphere, no country can do it alone.
Read the summary or full IPCC report or the 15 Key Points: