The UN sees it still possible to halve emissions by 2030





Emissions should peak before 2025, halve by 2030 and continue to decline “rapidly and deeply” in the next three decades to limit global warming to 1.5ºC and thus avoid the worst effects of climate change. It is one of the conclusions of the third part of the largest climate report in the world, that of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released this Monday and which raises a guide with proposals to save the planet from catastrophic warming.

The document is a “litany of broken climate promises”, as defined by the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, who has stated that this report “catalogues the empty commitments that have put us on the path towards an uninhabitable world”. The text is the culmination of the IPCC’s sixth report, which updates the most advanced scientific knowledge since the publication of its last analysis, seven years ago. If the publication of the first working group, in August 2021, focused on the causes of climate change and the second -which came to light at the end of February-, on its impacts and the possible adaptation to them, this new work provides one of the most important aspects: how to solve it.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can guarantee a livable future. We have the tools and knowledge to limit warming.”, has assured the president of the group of experts of the UN, Hoesung Lee. Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, the goal set in the historic Paris Agreement, is more difficult now than it was then because emissions have continued to rise, the report warns. “If we want to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, it is now or never”, pointed out another of those responsible for the study, Jim Skea, but he warned that “without immediate and deep reductions in all sectors, it will be impossible”.

Emissions have continued to rise over the past decade, and are at their highest point since the world started burning fossil fuels. but the pace has slowed and between 2010 and 2019 they have grown by an average of 1.3% per year, compared to 2.1% between 2000 and 2009. However, it would be necessary to reach net zero emissions -compensating for what was emitted- in order to limit global warming. Deforestation has also been reduced and global climate action has generally increased, the authors optimistically point out, albeit with many ‘buts’.

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The report, produced by some 250 authors from around the world over three years, is late. It has been approved three days later than expected, after a marathon 40-hour trading session via video call. Scientists responsible for the text and representatives of the countries have participated in it, who usually try to iron out some of the most forceful aspects of the “summary for political representatives”, as the document released this Monday is known and which includes a synthesis of the report itself, Longer and more technical. Now, this summary reaches the hands of almost 200 governments as a list of recommendations for action. A leak, published by RTVE.es in August of last year, it already advanced some of the conclusions of this report, such as the 2025 limit as the ceiling on emissions.

Limiting warming will mean “unburning” fossil fuels

The IPCC proposes several scenarios: the ideal – although also difficult to achieve – would mean reaching a warming of 1.5 degrees by the middle of the century and then temperatures would slowly decrease towards the end. Another argues that if emissions remain at a level similar to the current one, without more advanced reduction targets, warming will be 3.2 degrees in 2100. The worst scenario, which draws a faster increase in emissions than the current one, supposes exceeding a warming of four degrees at the end of the century.

Not reaching the worst scenarios requires transformations in all areas of society. In the energy sector, a “substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels” and extensive electrification of the system are necessary. The lower cost of solar and wind energy, 85% cheaper now than in 2010, causes that “in some regions and sectors”, maintaining a polluting energy production “may be more expensive than the transition to low-emission systems”.

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“Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness,” Guterres continued, in a harsh speech during the presentation of the report. “We have to triple the speed of the change towards renewables”, he insisted, while he recalled that these energies in general are much cheaper than non-renewable ones.

Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is morally and economically insane

Reaching a warming of no more than two degrees will mean “leave a large amount of fossil fuels unburned” and leave a good part of the current infrastructure unusable, according to the report, which comes precisely in a context of greater use of these hydrocarbons due to the war in Ukraine. The unburned coal, oil and gas, plus the infrastructure that would not be used, have an estimated value of between $1 trillion and $4 trillion.

Regarding the economic cost of acting, the report highlights that “The global economic benefit of limiting warming to 2°C outweighs the cost of mitigation.” Global GDP would be reduced between 1.3% and 2.7% until 2050, more if this limit is to be maintained than if current measures are followed, although other costs are not taken into account, such as less adaptation to a less destructive climate change.

The global economic benefit of limiting warming to 2°C outweighs the cost of mitigation

The IPCC devotes another part of its analysis to assessing the capacity of CO2 capture and storage mechanisms, one of the keys to reducing global temperature, although highly questioned since they also require a large amount of energy to function. Currently, its development is “far below” what is necessary to avoid reaching scenarios of increases of more than 1.5 or two degrees Celsius, and “more public support” would be necessary for these systems to improve their efficiency.

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Electric vehicles, change in diets and more humane cities

In sectors such as housing, the report shows that buildings built and to be built “can approach net zero emissions” in 2050 if efficiency policies and the use of renewables are implemented. In land transport, electric vehicles offer “the greatest decarbonizing potential”, while biofuels or green hydrogen can play an important role in sea and air transport, although they still need improvements in production and reduction in costs. A transformation of cities would also be necessary to favor transport on foot, by bike and public transport, in addition to promoting teleworking and digitization.

The study identifies 60 individual measures that can be carried out by citizens and that can accelerate mitigation. Between them, the most effective is to change the use of the car for walking or cycling. Adopting a vegetarian diet, reducing air travel, or adjusting heating and air conditioning also help reduce emissions.

Mitigation in agriculture can also enable “large-scale emission reductions”, although it would not compensate for a late performance in other sectors. Most of this reduction would come from curbing deforestation, although they also insist on the need to resort to organic farming and promote “healthy and balanced” diets.

IPCC scientists insist on the ability of agricultural land to store carbon dioxide, which can also benefit the achievement of sustainable development goals. The least developed countries will generally be the most affected by climate change, as could already be seen in the second part of the report, so many mitigation measures would have a positive impact on adaptation in the short term.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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