The United Nations’ climate change panel lambasted governments and corporations in its latest update, calling for a “substantial reduction” in the global use of fossil fuels, and at a faster clip, in order to avoid the worst impacts of warming.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by at least 43% to prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming at the end of the century. That’s a key degree target set in 2015 at a Paris climate summit and is seen keeping the world from the worst ravages of warming damage.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the report reveals “a litany of broken climate promises” by both the public and private sectors, which have made net-zero emissions pledges but appear to be well behind in achieving such goals. That’s in large part, the U.N. says, because demand for oil
remain high. The report also called out continued forest degradation for agriculture, which reduces the carbon-sucking natural environment.
“It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world,” he said. “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic.”
The natural gas industry, for one, has said its network of pipelines will be key to supplementing the shift to more renewables and advocates for a mix of gas with green hydrogen, for example.
“Today the IPCC stated that existing and planned fossil fuel projects are more than the climate can handle… The report also warns investors of stranded fossil fuel assets that will amount to $4 trillion in a world where warming is limited to 2°C, and even more in a world where it is limited to 1.5°C,” said a release from a group of investor and environmental activist nonprofits called the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition.
“The damning report comes as investors prepare to vote on a slate of shareholder resolutions at the Annual General Meetings (AGMs) of the six biggest U,S, banks and several major U.S. insurance companies,” the coalition said. “The resolutions call for financial companies to stop all financing activities for new fossil fuel expansion.”
The report follows another by the U.N. from February, which said climate change factors are already piling up faster than much of the world can adapt. And in August, the panel issued more precise and warmer forecasts for the 21st century than the last time such a report was issued, in 2013.
Emissions peak in just 3 years from now
The latest U.N. report also calls for emissions to reach their peak in the next few years, before 2025 at the latest.
“We have a really, really stark task ahead of us,” said Stephanie Roe, a lead author of the report and global climate and energy lead scientist at the World Wildlife Fund., who called for big cuts and at a large scale over the next decade.
Jim Skea, co-chair of the IPCC, warned that the next few years are critical.
“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” Skea said in a statement.
Despite the voluntary Paris pact, temperatures have already increased by over 1.1C (2F) since pre-industrial times, resulting in measurable increases in disasters such flash floods, extreme heat, more intense hurricanes and longer-burning wildfires, putting human lives in danger and costing governments hundreds of billions of dollars. That includes billions in the U.S. alone, just for flood damage.
Emissions in 2019 were about 12% higher than they were in 2010 and 54% higher than in 1990, said Skea.
The rate of growth has slowed from 2.1% per year in the early part of this century to 1.3% per year between 2010 and 2019, the report’s authors said. But they voiced “high confidence” that unless countries step up their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the planet will on average be 2.4C to 3.5C (4.3 to 6.3F) warmer by the end of the century. Vulnerable populations will be hit the hardest.
The report, numbering thousands of pages, doesn’t single out individual countries for blame, but figures show more responsibility for pollution on developed nations but the negative impact stronger for developing nations.
The U.N. panel said 40% of emissions since then came from Europe and North America. Just over 12% can be attributed to East Asia, which includes China. But China took over the position as world’s top emissions polluter from the U.S. in the mid-2000s.
There is hope, report says
The authors were encouraging that technological developments could help.
This could require measures such as the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere with natural or artificial means, but also potentially risky technologies such as pumping aerosols into the sky to reflect sunlight.
And they are encouraged by increasingly cheap solar and wind
power, the electrification of transport, less meat consumption, more efficient use of resources and financial support for poor countries unable to pay for such measures without help.
“[We are] particularly pleased to see the IPCC formally recognizing the importance of an advanced set of climate solutions like carbon capture, hydrogen and nuclear energy,” said Armond Cohen, executive director at the Clean Air Task Force.
“This problem is bigger than any one sector or solution. It is a fundamental re-tooling of our energy system in record time and we’re going to need more options on the table, not fewer,” he said.
One move often described as “low-hanging fruit” by scientists is to plug methane leaks from mines, wells and landfills that release the potent but short-lived greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Major nations, including China and the U.S. have made such a pledge.
Some experts say efforts to capture carbon or greatly reduce methane leaks is unfeasible with current technologies, and so it is costlier than preventing the emissions in the first place.
Vulnerable nations said the report showed big polluters have to step up their efforts before the next U.N. climate summit in Egypt this fall.
The Associated Press contributed.