IPCC: Near zero emissions needed by 2100 to avoid climate catastrophe

Photo from the press conference where IPCC presented the Synthesis Report, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 2 November 2014. Photo credit: IPCC

On November 2, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two major reports on climate change, a 116-page Synthesis Report and a 40-page summary for policy makers. These reports represents the most comprehensive assessment on climate change to date and summarizes the work conducted by more than 800 scientists and three major climate reports – respectively laying out the causes, impacts and solutions to global warming – issued earlier in the year.

In this assessment report, the IPCC warns that climate change will inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” for humans and the natural world unless rapid action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The report shows how human activities are unequivocally responsible for global warming and details the severe impacts of climate change across the globe. IPCC notes that climate change is already responsible for an increased risk of extreme weather and severe heatwaves around the world. The report, which is meant to influence politicians and policy makers into action, warns that climate change will result in more and powerful hurricanes, more frequent droughts and floods, rising sea levels, food shortages and violent conflicts across the globe.

It’s a grim picture the report paints. But we could avoid the worst effects of climate change if we act now. Thankfully, as IPCC notes, there are options available for us to both adapt to a changing climate and implement mitigation activities to curb the most severe impacts of global warming.

“We have the means to limit climate change,” said R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.”

The goal is to stop the average global temperature to rise beyond 2C – but with the current trend we will badly exceed that target. To make sure we reach this goal the world needs to attain near zero emissions by 2100.

“We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2C of warming closes,” Pachauri warned. “To keep a good chance of staying below 2C, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100. We have that opportunity, and the choice is in our hands.”

Despite this, many countries remain hesitant to limit their greenhouse gas emissions claiming that climate action will damage their economies. IPCC refutes this and claims that ambitious mitigation programs and policies would only reduce economic growth by about 0.06 percent with the global economy still growing by 1.6 to 3 percent per year. But obviously, the costs will increase if we wait for too long.

“Compared to the imminent risk of irreversible climate change impacts, the risks of mitigation are manageable,” said Youba Sokona, who worked on the report. “The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.”

So what now? As we currently have no global framework on how to deal with the climate crisis such a treaty will need to be devised and agreed on. The first step towards such a global agreement will take place in Peru this December. A two-week long climate summit will be held in Lima where negotiators from around the world will try and find common ground on everything from emission targets, carbon credits and the North vs. South divide. Next up is to draft and sign a global agreement on how to tackle climate change. Hopefully this will happen in Paris in 2015. But if previous climate summits have shown one thing it’s that this process won’t be easy, and that it’ll most likely end in a failure or too weak targets.

Hopefully this assessment report will do its work and influence policy makers to realise the dangers of unchecked climate change and the benefits of taking climate action.

Also read: Eighteen key conclusions from the summary report issued this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


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