In its starkest warning yet, a comprehensive new synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this week has concluded that climate change will inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts,” unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut sharply and rapidly.
The new climate change report is actually a synthesis of 3 large working group reports released over the past year, and is the most comprehensive report on climate change ever. For the first time, this report brings together many aspects of the need to tackle climate change, including that carbon emissions will eventually have to fall to zero this century, and that global poverty will not be able to be adequately addressed without also addressing climate change.
The report states that climate change has already increased the risks of severe heatwaves and other extreme weather events. Droughts, dangerous coastal storm surges from the rising sea levels, and wildlife extinctions will all worsen unless emissions are cut dramatically, the report says. The IPCC also warns that the effects of escalating climate change will indirectly cause violent conflicts and food shortages, if humanity does not move quickly to implement achievable solutions. However, the report concludes that adequate solutions are both available and affordable for the world.
One major issue is that two-thirds of all the fossil fuel emissions permissible by the science, if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, have already been released into the atmosphere. The IPPC has found that the lowest cost solution would be for emissions to peak by 2020, and then to eventually drop to zero later in the century. The goal of having emissions peak by 2020, just 6 years away now, is becoming very challenging indeed. It would not have been so challenging if the world had agreed to start much earlier.
The IPCC has indicated that investments in low-carbon electricity generation and increased energy efficiency need to rise by hundreds of billions of dollars a year before 2030, even though over two hundred billion dollars a year is currently being invested. Despite this, the IPCC says that addressing climate change need only trim world economic growth rates by a tiny fraction, and may actually improve economies by providing new benefits – such as improving public health by cutting air pollution. Tackling climate change will also be necessary to help raise billions of people out of poverty this century.
Image CC licensed by Monica McGivern