Even if greenhouse gas emissions fall drastically in the coming years, global warming is “more likely” to exceed 1.5 degrees in the near future than not to exceed that point. The conclusion was reached by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a report published on Monday. At the same time, the scientists see numerous “feasible and effective” options for reducing emissions which are also becoming more and more affordable. The report “shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all,” said IPCC President Hoesung Lee.
In most scenarios, the 1.5 degree Celsius global warming threshold will already be reached between 2030 and 2035. Even if that limit is exceeded, it is important to avoid every bit of increase in temperature beyond that point, the IPCC emphasized. If all available techniques are fully deployed and immediate action is taken, the IPCC believes that the damage can be limited.
The report, published on Monday, summarizes a series in which scientists described in detail how climate change is taking place and what the consequences will be. According to the most realistic scenarios, humanity is still moving towards 3 degrees of warming by the end of this century, when compared to the period before industrialization. This will have enormous consequences, especially for poorer countries, some of which are already being felt. The IPCC added that the funds available for sustainability “are falling short of the level needed to meet climate targets in all sectors and regions”.
The panel said it sees many reasons to work quickly on reducing emissions. If our energy system quickly moves away from fossil fuels, air quality will also improve, which is good for people’s health. The economic benefits alone would be “roughly equal to, or possibly greater” than the costs, according to the IPCC.
“Current policy is insufficient, but we certainly see the effects of climate policy,” said Dutch researcher Detlef van Vuuren. “There are also hopeful developments,” he continued. “In 2014 we wrote that renewable energy is attractive, but a bit more expensive than fossil fuels. Now we can write that it is cheaper in many places.”
Van Vuuren and his colleague, Aimée Slangen made important contributions to the text of the report. Despite the largely gloomy message that the world is still not doing enough about climate change and that will have major consequences, they also see a number of positive developments. “There is certainly still hope, but that requires a lot of effort from everyone worldwide,” said Slangen, who works for the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ).
Slangen said it is important that policy can be made “on the basis of the best available information.” The knowledge about climate change is once again clearly summarized in this report. Much of the content had been known for some time, but according to the NIOZ researcher, that certainly does not make the report the product of activism. “Everything in it is grounded in science,” she emphasized.
Van Vuuren, who has been researching the climate for years for the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), summarizes the message in one word: Urgency. “We have come to a decisive moment,” said the climate expert, who is also a professor in Utrecht. “In almost all scenarios, we will temporarily exceed 1.5 degrees of warming, but there are also ways back.” If greenhouse gas emissions do not decrease sharply before 2030, a subsequent report from the IPCC “will have to conclude that 1.5 degrees is no longer possible.” But even then the attitude should not become: “Never mind,” warned the researcher. “Every tenth of a degree counts, 1.6 is better than 1.7.”
The IPCC has become more pessimistic about the consequences of global warming. The remaining “carbon budget,” the carbon dioxide emissions that the world can afford to produce, will be completely used up by 2030. The authors therefore see “deep, immediate emission reductions worldwide” as a dire necessity.
Slangen explained once again that the increasingly higher temperatures have major consequences. Heat waves are becoming more frequent and more intense, food production is increasingly affected by drought and fish stocks and fisheries can also suffer greatly from the warming. “It is the most vulnerable people and ecosystems that will be most affected,” she added.
According to the IPCC, sea level rise is already partly unavoidable. For small island states, this is an acute threat. The Netherlands would also be wise to keep an eye on the long term, said Slangen. For example, in plans for housing in coastal areas. “We shouldn’t lock ourselves in.”
In the Paris Climate Agreement, world leaders agreed at the end of 2015 to jointly limit climate change. Later, at the climate summits in Glasgow (2021) and Sharm-el-Sheikh (2022), it was recognized that the consequences of 2 degrees of warming are much greater than those of 1.5 degrees. Some scientists no longer see the much-discussed 1.5″ target as realistic.
According to this latest report, global emissions must peak by 2025 at the latest, and then fall rapidly to stay within 1.5 degrees. How fast exactly is somewhat uncertain. According to the calculations, greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 should be between 34 and 60 percent lower than in 2019. In the middle of this lies a possible target of 43 percent. Ten years later, those emissions should be about 69 percent lower, around 2050 almost no carbon dioxide is allowed to enter the air and the emissions of other gases must also be strongly reduced.
Reporting by ANP
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