UN chief Antonio Guterres says a major new report on climate change is a “survival guide for humanity”.
According to the report, clean energy and technology can be used to avoid the looming climate disaster.
However, at a meeting in Switzerland to discuss their findings, climate scientists warned that a key global temperature goal will almost certainly be missed.
Their report explains how rapid reductions in fossil fuel use can prevent the worst effects of climate change.
As a result of the findings, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has stated that all countries should accelerate their net zero plans by a decade. These targets are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that warm the Earth’s atmosphere.
“A rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” according to the report.
Governments had previously agreed to take action to prevent global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, the world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius, and experts predict that it will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius by the 2030s.
All governments involved have agreed on the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific body that advises the UN on rising temperatures.
Their new study aims to condense several landmark findings on the causes, effects, and solutions to climate change that have been published since 2018.
It outlines the significant effects that climate change is already having on the world and explains how they will worsen.
Extreme coastal flooding, which used to occur only once every century, is expected to occur at least annually in half of the world’s tidal gauge locations – places where sea level measurements are taken – by 2100.
CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are at their highest in 2 million years. The world is now warmer than it has ever been in the past 125,000 years, and it is expected to get even warmer over the next decade.
“Even under the very low greenhouse gas scenario, global warming is more likely than not to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius in the near term,” the report states.
“If we aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius and achieve 1.6 degrees Celsius, that is still much better than saying it’s too late, we’re doomed, and I’m not even trying,” Dr Friederike Otto of Imperial College, a member of the report’s core writing team, told BBC News.
“And I think this report shows very clearly that there is so much to be gained by trying.”
According to the synthesis, projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure, such as oil wells and gas pipelines, would exhaust the remaining carbon budget – the amount of CO2 that can still be emitted – for staying below this critical temperature threshold.
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While not explicitly mentioning new projects such as Willow oil in the United States or the Cumbria coal mine in the United Kingdom, the scientists involved have little doubt about their impact.
“There is no cut-off date (for fossil fuels), but it’s clear that the fossil fuel infrastructure we already have will blow through that carbon budget,” Dr Oliver Geden, a member of the report’s core writing team and member of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told BBC News.
“The remaining carbon budget in opening new fossil fuel infrastructure is unquestionably incompatible with the 1.5 degree Celsius target.”
The document argues strongly that going past 1.5C will not be the end of the world as this may only be a “temporary overshoot”.
The authors are optimistic that dramatic changes can be achieved quickly, citing massive drops in the price of solar and wind energy.
They also argue that consumer-driven changes in diet, food waste, and switching to low-carbon transportation can result in significant reductions in emissions from many sectors.
However, the report acknowledges that, in addition to achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible, widespread use of carbon dioxide removal technology will be required. According to the scientists, this is a feasible plan for bringing the Earth’s temperature back under control and keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Some observers are skeptical, claiming that these technologies have yet to be proven.
“We know what needs to happen,” said Lili Fuhr of the Centre for International Environmental Law, who attended the approval session.
“However, I believe proponents of these technologies will spin it to say that this is a massive call for investment in carbon removal.”
In response to the report’s call for more immediate action, the UN Secretary General has called on countries to accelerate their plans for net zero emissions by a decade.
“Developed-country leaders must commit to reaching net zero as close to 2040 as possible, the limit they should all strive to meet,” he said in a statement. He also urges India and China, which have announced net zero plans for beyond 2050, to try to accelerate them by a decade.