Author: Lauren Foye, Head of Reports at Zero Carbon Academy
In its recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the continued rise in greenhouse gas emissions must end by 2025 at the latest.
IPCC issue a stark warning to world leaders
The IPCC’s third and final section of its review into the state of climate science came to a stark conclusion regarding the challenges the world faces with global warming. Taking the expertise of thousands of scientists, the IPCC reports are produced every six to seven years. However, this latest report found that between 2010-2019 the average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, and whilst the rate of growth has slowed, without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach. Jim Skea, co-chair of the group behind the report, and a professor at Imperial College London, said:
“It’s now or never if we want to limit global warming to 1.5C. Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”[i]
As the Guardian highlights, the IPCC working group 3 also identified five key areas that the world must consider in order to stay below 1.5 degree warming:
1. Coal must be effectively phased out if the world is to stay within 1.5C but the currently planned new fossil fuel infrastructure would cause the world to exceed 1.5C.2. Methane emissions must be reduced by a third.3. Growing forests and preserving soils will be necessary, but tree-planting cannot do enough to compensate for continued emissions for fossil fuels.4. Investment in the shift to a low-carbon world is about six times lower than it needs to be.5. All sectors of the global economy, from energy and transport to buildings and food, must change dramatically and rapidly. New technologies including hydrogen fuel and carbon capture and storage will be needed.[ii] There were some positives to be found. The research noted that overall growth in emissions has slowed, and across the world countries are taking steps to change behaviour and reduce pollution:
“We see examples of zero energy or zero-carbon buildings in almost all climates,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea. “Action in this decade is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.”[iii]
The IPCC noted that cities and urban areas in particular offer opportunity for emissions reduction, with these possible through lower energy consumption, but this means looking beyond the built environment to creating compact, walkable cities. Combined with the electrification of transport, green energy sources, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature, these would also create more pleasant urban spaces which would improve living standards.
IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla said:
“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential. The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”[iv]
Accusations by UN that some governments and businesses have been “lying” about their progress
The report itself had been delayed by several hours, as government representatives argued with scientists over the final messages in the 63-page summary for policymakers. Whilst IPCC reports are led by scientists, governments have input on the final messages in the summary for policymakers.
Different national priorities introduce complexity to the negotiation process. For example, there are claims that “governments including India, Saudi Arabia and China questioned messages, including on financing emissions reductions in the developing world and phasing out fossil fuels.” [v] This could introduce uncertainty for any business looking to utilise the report to inform its own strategy. However, the final report did achieve consensus and “scientists stressed that the final summary was agreed by all 195 governments.”[vi]
Further tensions arose when UN secretary general, António Guterres, said some governments and businesses were “lying” in their claims to be on track for 1.5C:
"We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris. Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another."[vii]
He continued: "Simply put, they are lying and the results will be catastrophic.” He said the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed "a litany of broken climate promises" by governments and corporations, accusing them of stoking global warming by clinging to harmful fossil fuels. "It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world,"[viii] Guterres further argued against planned increases in fossil fuel reliance, as nations struggle with the cost-of-living crisis and decreased dependency on fuel supplies from Russia: “Inflation is rising, and the war in Ukraine is causing food and energy prices to skyrocket. But increasing fossil fuel production will only make matters worse.”[ix]
The IPCC research stated that one of the main factors in limiting global warming requires major transitions in the energy sector; this includes a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels (such as hydrogen). With a squeeze on living costs at present, alongside volatile supply chains in the energy sector, it could be argued that a switch to greener energy sources is warranted but will be increasingly challenging.
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