The latest headlines are out, and wishful words plastered on billboards read ‘Avoiding the worst of climate change is possible if we act now’. But if there is one thing to take from the UN climate science panel's sixth and latest report published yesterday on climate change mitigation, it is that this is the critical decade for securing a liveable, equitable and sustainable future.
Unsustainable development models and social inequality have sped up the symptoms of climate change, which are now being felt more than ever and have become increasingly complex and harder to manage.
It is no longer incremental steps that are needed but instead comprehensive and inclusive transitions in energy, food, industrial, urban and societal systems that deliver climate resilient, equitable development, without delay. Weather extremes have also pushed millions of people towards acute food or water insecurity and have battered infrastructure or caused supply chain disruption. Damage is being compounded when climate impacts coincide, such as heatwaves occurring in areas suffering drought. Some losses, for example those resulting from the death of coral reefs or the melting of glaciers, are irreversible in our lifetimes.
It comes as no surprise that this report details how emissions are still on the rise around the World despite the latest outcry at COP26 and outlines how global emissions should peak before 2025 to stem irreversible damage. The report goes on to outline how this is still achievable, if nations around the world invest in transitioning to a low carbon future. Doing so is likely to be much less expensive than continuing to burn fossil fuels as renewable energy becomes cheaper than ever. Here are five key takeaways from the report.
1. Emissions Escalating
Globally, our carbon emissions are still too high, hitting about 59 gigatonnes in 2019 when changes in land use are considered. That’s a whopping 12 per cent jump from global 2010 emissions of 52.5 gigatonnes, equating to an average increase of 1.3 per cent each year during the last decade.
By comparison, global emissions in the previous decade climbed by about 2.1 per cent each year, or nearly twice as fast and so while total emissions are still rising, the rate of increase has slowed.
2. Edge of the Goldilocks Zone
Although we are not yet at that stage, we are on a trajectory towards a dangerous exit of the goldilocks zone in a few years if we do not change our ways now, putting the planet on a path to warm by about 3.2 degrees C. Only immediate, ambitious climate action would be able to maintain global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond the pre-industrial average, the report says. Beyond that threshold, the world would be courting extreme climate change with severe impacts on people, threat to global food systems, wildlife and ecosystems, scientists say.
If we are to maintain temperatures at 1.5 degrees C, carbon emissions of all greenhouse gases will need to be cut roughly in half by the 2030s, with a further decarbonization push to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emission 2050 targets. That transition would not be easy, but it is achievable.
3. New Policies around Economic Growth
The report clearly outlines that to cap global temperatures under 2 degrees C would require actions that limit global economic growth by 1.3 per cent to 2.7 per cent by 2050. And although it would seem like an unfair necessity, the report goes on to detail how that loss would in fact likely be outweighed by the overall economic benefit of limiting warming.
Aside from a conscious shift in consumerism from global citizens, governments will also need to draft and implement new policies toward changing people's lifestyles and behaviours towards a greener personal footprint, from public transport to food routines. The report goes on to suggest that should ‘demand-side mitigation’ efforts be voiced loud enough, global greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced in some sectors by up to 70 per cent by 2050.
Some countries have already started implementing policies which have led to increased reliance renewable energy and electric vehicle use or have slowed the rate of deforestation.
4. Sustainable Progress
A strong positive reflected through this report echoed the sentiment following the Climate Innovation Conference held in Glasgow in parallel with COP26 meetings, highlighting the increasing affordability of climate-friendly technologies.
A unit of solar energy on average now costs 85 per cent less than it did in 2010, while wind power is now 55 per cent cheaper. The cost of lithium has until very recently been seen as out of price range but has now fallen so steeply that e-cars are increasingly become affordable.
5. Nature Based Solutions
One major takeaway from the report which isn’t receiving enough acknowledgement is the fact that it is imperative to restore nature and protect at least 30% of the Earth for it to protect us
Safeguarding planetary health is fundamental for our health and essential for climate-resilient development. Diverse, self-sustaining ecosystems with healthy biodiversity provide multiple essential contributions for tackling climate change. Importantly, scientists emphasise that maintaining the resilience of the natural world depends on protecting approximately 30% to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas.
In the agriculture sector, growing crops within forests and managing livestock more sustainably would help improve land productivity and resilience to climate impacts such as heat or drought.
And so, in the words of IPCC chair, Dr Hoesung Lee, despite the bleak assessment, change is possible.
'We are at a crossroads. This is the time for action. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming.’
'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.'
Director of Communications, Laconic Infrastructure Partners