Incheon (South Korea): Avoiding global climate chaos will require a major transformation of society and the world economy that is “unprecedented in scale,” the UN said Monday in a landmark report that warns time is running out to avert disaster.
Earth’s surface has warmed one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) — enough to lift oceans and unleash a crescendo of deadly storms, floods and droughts — and is on track toward an unliveable 3C or 4C rise.
At current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, we could pass the 1.5C marker as early as 2030, and no later than mid-century, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) reported with “high confidence”.
“The next few years are probably the most important in human history,” Debra Roberts, head of the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department in Durban, South Africa, and an IPCC co-chair, said.
Before the Paris Agreement was inked in 2015, nearly a decade of scientific research rested on the assumption that 2C was the guardrail for a climate-safe world.
The IPCC report, however, shows that global warming impacts have come sooner and hit harder than predicted.
To have at least a 50/50 chance of staying under the 1.5C cap without overshooting the mark, the world must, by 2050, become “carbon neutral,” according to the report.
Drawing from more than 6,000 recent scientific studies, the report laid out four “illustrative” pathways to that goal. The most ambitious would see a radical drawdown in energy consumption coupled with a rapid shift away from fossil fuels and a swift decline in CO2 emissions starting in 2020. It would also avoid an “overshoot” of the 1.5C threshold.
It depends heavily on the use of biofuels. But the scheme would need to plant an area twice the size of India in biofuel crops, and assumes that some 1,200 billion tonnes of CO2 — 30 years’ worth of emissions at current rates — can be safely socked away underground.
The stakes are especially high for small island states, developing nations in the tropics, and countries with densely-populated delta regions already suffering from rising seas.
Limiting global warming to 1.5C comes with a hefty price tag: some $2.4 trillion (2.1 trillion euros) of investments in the global energy system every year between 2016 and 2035, or about 2.5% of world GDP.
The path to a climate-safe world has become a tightrope, and will require an unprecedented marshalling of human ingenuity, the authors said.
The IPCC report was timed to feed into the December UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, where world leaders will be under pressure to ramp up national carbon-cutting pledges which — even if fulfilled — would yield and the 3C world.
The Trump administration has dismantled emissions reduction policies domestically and vowed to ditch the Paris treaty.