“Now or never” for climate change mitigation, IPCC warns

The next few years are critical in the fight against climate change, according to the third instalment of the UN’s latest sixth landmark report.

Its global assessment of global climate change, which will be completed this year, has warned that without deep and immediate emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is beyond reach.

In 2010-2019 average global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed.

In this update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – focused on mitigation progress and pledges – it has concluded we can halve emissions by 2030 but that we “are at a crossroads”.

More than 270 authors from 65 countries have set out developments in reduction efforts and assessed their impact in the report published on Monday 4 April.

They warn that limiting warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030. At the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if we do this, the IPCC warns it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to below it by the end of the century.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F),” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

Is there increasing evidence of climate action?

Evidence of progress cited by the IPCC includes the fact that since 2010 there have been sustained decreases of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy and batteries.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” according to IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.

He said: “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”

“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 IPCC’s Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla said.

What action can be scaled up to avert climate disaster?

Among the specific options presented to reduce or capture emissions are: major transitions in the energy sector; using materials more efficiently in industry, a sector which accounts for about a quarter of global emissions; zero energy or zero-carbon buildings; and, “where necessary”, carbon capture and storage.

It also looks at closing investment gaps and how climate action is critical to sustainable development and achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

According to the IPCC, “financial flows are a factor of three to six times lower than needed by 2030 to limit warming to below 2°C (3.6°F)” but “there is sufficient global capital and liquidity to close investment gaps”. It said this relies on “clear signalling from governments and the international community”.

Tools to halve emissions by 2030

 Options presented by the UN’s IPCC report include:  

  • Major transitions in the energy sector – through reduction of fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen.
  • Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable lifestyle changes.
  • Changes to our established, rapidly growing and new cities and urban areas – for example, lower energy consumption through compact walkable cities, electrification of transport and low-emission energy sources, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature.
  • Action to capture mitigation potential of buildings – ie zero energy or zero-carbon buildings.
  • Reducing emissions in industry – through using materials more efficiently and using low to zero greenhouse gas production processes, hydrogen and, where necessary, carbon capture and storage.
  • Agriculture, forestry and other land use – to provide large-scale emission reductions and remove and store carbon dioxide at scale.

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