Humanity still has one chance, almost the last, to prevent the worst future damage from climate change, a panel of United Nations scientists warned Monday.
But doing so requires rapidly reducing carbon pollution and fossil fuel use by nearly two-thirds by 2035, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said. The head of the United Nations put it more bluntly, calling for an end to the exploration of new fossil fuels and for rich countries to abandon coal, oil and gas by 2040.
“Humanity is on thin ice, and that ice is melting rapidly,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”
Stepping up his calls for action on fossil fuels, Guterres not only called for “no new coal”, but also phase out its use in rich countries by 2030 and poor countries by 2040. He urged carbon-free electricity generation in the developed world by 2035, meaning no gas-fired power plants, either.
That date is key because nations must soon propose targets for pollution reductions by 2035, under the Paris climate accord. After a contentious debate, the UN scientific panel calculated and reported that to stay below the warming limit set in Paris, the world needs to reduce 60% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2035compared to 2019, adding a new target not previously mentioned in the six Reports issued since 2018.
“Choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts for thousands of years,” says the report, which calls climate change “a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet.”
“We are not on the right track, but it is not too late,” said Aditi Mukherji, a co-author of the report and a water scientist. “Our intention is really a message of hope, and not that of the end of the world.”
With the world only a few tenths of a degree away from the globally accepted goal of limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, scientists emphasized a sense of urgency. The goal was adopted as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit).
1.5: the figure most feared by experts
This is likely the last warning the group of Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientists will be able to give about the 1.5 mark because their next set of reports will likely come after Earth has passed it or is already impossible to avoid, they warned. several of the report’s authors.
After 1.5 degrees, “the risks start to accumulate”said report co-author Francis X. Johnson, a climate, land and policy scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute. The report mentions “tipping points” around that species extinction temperature, including coral reefs, irreversible melting of ice sheets, and sea level rise on the order of several meters.
“The window is closing if emissions are not reduced as quickly as possible,” Johnson said in an interview. “Scientists are quite alarmed.”
“1.5 is a critical critical limit, particularly for small islands and glacier-dependent mountain (communities),” said Mukherji, who is also director of the climate change impact platform at the CGIAR research institute.
Many scientists, including at least three co-authors, said that reaching 1.5 degrees is inevitable.
“We’re pretty much locked in at 1.5,” said report co-author Malte Meinshausen, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia. “There are very few ways we can avoid crossing 1.5 C sometime in the 2030s.”but the big problem is whether the temperature continues to rise from there or stabilizes.
Guterres insisted that “the limit of 1.5 degrees is reachable”. The head of the scientific panel, Hoesung Lee, said the world is so far off course.
“This report confirms that if current trends, current patterns of consumption and production continue, then… the global average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees will be seen sometime this decade,” Lee said.
What will happen if the dreaded 1.5 mark is exceeded
Scientists emphasize that the world, civilization or humanity will not end if Earth hits and passes the 1.5 degree mark. Mukherji said that “it’s not like it’s a cliff we all fall off of.” But an earlier IPCC report detailed how the damage, from coral reef extinction to Arctic sea ice-free summers and even nastier extreme weather, is far worse beyond 1.5 degrees of warming.
“It’s certainly prudent to plan for a future with temperatures above 1.5 degrees,” said IPCC report review editor Steven Rose, an economist at the US Electric Power Research Institute.
If the world continues to use all fossil fuel-powered infrastructure, whether existing now or proposed, the Earth will warm by at least 2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, surpassing the 1.5 mark, according to the report.
Because the report is based on data from a few years ago, estimates for fossil fuel projects already in the pipeline do not include the increase in coal and natural gas use after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the co-author said. of the report Dipak Dasgupta, climate expert. Economist at the Indian Institute of Energy and Resources. The report comes a week after the Biden Administration in the United States approved the massive Willow oil drilling project in Alaska, which could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day.
How it affects poor countries
The report and the underlying discussions also address the disparity between wealthy nations, which caused much of the problem because carbon dioxide emissions from industrialization linger in the air for more than a century, and the poorest countries that are most affected by extreme weather.
If the world is to meet its climate goals, the poorest countries need a “multiplied” increase in financial aid to adapt to a warmer world and switch to clean energy. Countries have made financial commitments and promises of a compensation fund for damages.
If rich countries don’t cut emissions faster and better help victim nations adapt to future damage, “the world is consigning the least developed countries to poverty,” said Madeline Diouf Sarr, president of a coalition of nations poorer.
The report offers hope if action is taken, using the word “opportunity” nine times in a 27-page summary. Although the opportunity is dwarfed by 94 uses of the word “risk”.
What can be done
The head of the IPCC said that The report contains “a message of hope in addition to these various scientific findings about the tremendous damage and also the losses that climate change has imposed on us and the planet.”
“There is a way that we can solve these problems, and this report provides a comprehensive overview of the actions we can take to move us to a much better and livable future,” Lee told The Associated Press.
Lee took pains to emphasize that it is not the panel’s job to tell countries what they should or should not do to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“It’s up to each government to find the best solution,” he said, adding that scientists expect those solutions to stabilize the globe’s temperature by around 1.5 degrees.
Asked if this would be the last report outlining the ways in which 1.5C can be achieved, Lee said it was impossible to predict what progress might be made to keep that goal alive.
“The possibility is still there.” said. “It depends, again I want to emphasize that, on the political will to achieve that goal.”
Activists also found grains of hope in the reports.
“The findings of these reports may discourage us from the slow pace of emission reductions, the limited transition to renewable energy, and the growing daily impact of the climate crisis on children,” said youth climate activist Vanessa Nakate, a goodwill ambassador. from UNICEF. “But those kids need us to read this report and take action, not give up hope.”
(with information from AP)
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