DESPITE decades of warnings from scientists on the dangers of climate change, the world is still failing to curb rising global temperatures and looks set to smash the 1.5-degree limit, threatening the very existence of some developing countries and society as we know it.
The dramatic report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) explains how, on the current path, global temperatures will likely reach 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This is significantly higher than the limit set in the Paris Climate Accord.
The report also suggests that the absolute maximum increase of 2-degrees that was laid out in the Paris deal is not good enough, and a limit of 1.5-degrees would significantly reduce the anticipated damage.
Troublingly, the IPCC expects the 1.5-degree threshold will likely be broken in just 12 years, by 2030.
While the panel points at public bodies for not acting fast enough on scientists’ warnings about climate change, they also say it’s not too late. But if the worst impacts of climate change are to be avoided, government’s have to act now.
To avoid catastrophic effects, it will require urgent action and a whole lot of money, the report says.
We will need to invest around 2.5 percent of global GDP every year for the next two decades. And it will require a complete shift in how we think about energy, land management, and transportation systems.
To stay within the recommended 1.5-degree increase, global emissions of carbon dioxide will have to decline by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030.
The use of coal needs to be pretty much eradicated and replaced by renewable energy sources, which are expected to generate 85 percent of global electric supply by 2050.
Energy crops – plants grown to make biofuels – will play a large part in that, with up to seven million square kilometres still needed to make up the deficit.
New forests – seen as the lungs of the planet – need to be planted to aid with capturing carbon from the air.
Even once all of this has been achieved, the planet will still need to rely on advancements in technology, such as carbon capture plants.
Last year, the world’s first commercial plant for capturing carbon dioxide from the air opened in Switzerland.
The Climeworks AG facility near Zurich is the first ever to do this on an industrial scale. The carbon it captures is then sold directly to a buyer. They currently only capture a tiny fraction of the amount generated by fossil fuel plants. To achieve their goal of capturing one percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, they will need another 250,000 similar plants.
All of the suggestions made in the report are possible, say researchers, but it won’t come cheap and it won’t be easy.
It will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” the report says, and will need an annual average investment of US$2.4 trillion between 2016 and 2035.
While that sounds like a lot, the investment will be more than worth it as the cost of cutting emission now will be far lower than the money needed to remove carbon dioxide in the future.
Economic growth is also estimated to be significantly higher under the 1.5-degree threshold than at 2-degrees.
Not to mention the catastrophic environmental damage that will be avoided.
The report details how coral reefs will be essentially wiped out at 2 degrees of warming.
Sea-levels would rise by 10 centimetres, exposing 10 million more people to the risk of flooding.
Island nations, such as the Maldives, could face such severe flooding that they are no longer habitable.
The warnings from the report are harsh. The group produced suggestions for policymakers in the hope of stirring progress on climate policy, but they are unable to instruct what must be done. For that, we still rely on governments and individual action.
“It is feasible if we all put our best foot forward, and that’s a key message of this report. No-one can opt out anymore,” co-chair of the IPCC, Dr Debra Roberts, told reporters.
“We all have to fundamentally change the way we live our lives; we can’t remain remote from the problem anymore.
“The report is very clear, this can be done, but it will require massive changes, socially and politically and accompanied by technological development.”