- By Matt McGrath & Georgina Rannard
- In Interlaken and Cardiff
A major new report on climate change is a “survival guide for humanity,” says UN chief Antonio Guterres.
The report says clean energy and technology can be harnessed to avert a growing climate catastrophe.
But at a meeting in Switzerland to acknowledge their findings, climate scientists warned that a key global temperature target would be missed.
Their report shows how rapid cuts to fossil fuels can avoid the worst effects of climate change.
In response to the findings, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says all countries must present their net zero plans within a decade. These goals require rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are warming our planet’s atmosphere.
“The opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all is rapidly closing,” the report says.
Governments have previously agreed to act to avoid global temperature rise exceeding 1.5C. But the world has already warmed 1.1C, and now experts say it could exceed 1.5C in the 2030s.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the scientific body that advises the UN on rising temperatures – has been agreed by all governments involved.
Their new study aims to condense into one slim volume several key findings on the causes, impacts and solutions to climate change published since 2018.
It outlines the significant impacts that climate change is already having on the world, and explains that these will only get worse.
By 2100, extreme once-a-century coastal flooding is expected to occur at least once a year at half of the world’s tidal gauge sites—where sea level records are made.
The concentration of the greenhouse gas CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest it has been in 2 million years. The world is now warmer than it has been in the last 125,000 years – and will get even warmer in the next decade.
“Even in the near term, global warming may not reach 1.5C, even under a very low greenhouse gas scenario,” the report says.
“If we aim for 1.5C and reach 1.6C, that’s a lot better than saying it’s too late and we’re doomed and I’m not even trying,” said Dr Friedrich Otto of Imperial College. The main writing team for the report told BBC News.
“I think this report shows very, very clearly that there’s a lot to be gained by trying.”
The synthesis shows that projected emissions of CO2 from existing fossil fuel infrastructure, such as oil wells and gas pipelines, will break the remaining carbon budget – the amount of CO2 that can still be emitted – to stay under this key temperature threshold.
Although the new projects, such as willow oil in the US or the Cumbria coal mine in the UK, are not explicitly mentioned, the scientists involved have some doubts about their impact.
“There is no cut-off date (for fossil fuels), but it is clear that the fossil fuel infrastructure we already have will blow through that carbon budget,” Dr Oliver Geden, from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, the report’s lead author, told BBC News.
“The remaining carbon budget of opening up new fossil fuel infrastructure is certainly not compatible with the 1.5C target.”
The document strongly argues that exceeding 1.5C will not be the end of the world, as it is only a “temporary overshoot”.
The authors are optimistic that dramatic changes can be achieved quickly, pointing to massive drops in the cost of energy produced from solar and wind.
They also argue that consumer-driven changes in terms of diet, food waste and a shift to low-carbon transport could achieve significant cuts in emissions from many sectors.
But the report also acknowledges that in addition to getting to net zero emissions as soon as possible, large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal technology will be required. Scientists say this is a realistic plan to bring Earth’s temperature back under control and below 1.5C.
Some observers have their doubts that these technologies are unproven.
“We know what needs to happen, but the carbon removal area and carbon capture and storage ideas are a big distraction,” said Lili Fuhr of the International Environmental Law Center, who attended the ratification session.
“But I think proponents of these technologies will spin that to say it’s a big call for investment in carbon removal.”
In response to the report’s call for more urgent action, the UN The Secretary-General has called on countries to present their plans for net zero within a decade.
“Leaders of developed countries must commit to achieving net zero as much as possible by 2040, a threshold they must all respect,” he said in a statement. He also called on countries like India and China, which have announced net zero plans beyond 2050, to try to bring them forward by a decade.