The world faces crossing Paris Agreement warming limits within 20 years even with drastic emissions cuts this decade, the UN-backed IPCC scientific panel said in a landmark report published on Monday.
Drawing on more than 14,000 scientific studies, the first part of the four-part Sixth Assessment report gives the most detailed view yet of how climate change is impacting nature now and what could be in store in future.
It said current levels of greenhouse gases guarantee climate disruption for decades and are likely to increase the severity of the lethal heat waves, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events occurring now.
The report found that even with drastic emissions cuts to 2030, average temperatures could still rise 1.5C by 2040 and possibly 1.6C by 2060 before stabilising –a full decade earlier than the IPCC concluded in its previous major report less than three years ago.
A glimmer of hope remains only in the most optimistic of the IPCC’s five scenarios, whereby drastic emissions cuts could result in the Earth’s surface dipping back to 1.4C over 2080-2100.
But the panel’s other four scenarios range from very challenging impacts of 1.8C by 2080-2100 to a catastrophic 4.4C if warming triggers feedback loops such as melting Arctic permafrost that would release still more emissions into the atmosphere.
“Today’s report is a ‘code red’ for humanity,” said UN chief Antonio Guterres. “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”
“We must act decisively now to keep 1.5C alive … This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet,” he added.
Guterres reiterated his call for no new coal power plants to be built after this year and end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, for OECD countries to phase out existing coal power by 2030, with all other nations to follow suit by 2040.
Despite the report’s perilous outlook, Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, emphasised the need for all elements of society to act.
“It’s time to get serious because every tonne of CO2 emission adds to global warming … We can’t undo the mistakes of the past. But this generation of political and business leaders, this generation of conscious citizens, can make things right. This generation can make the systemic changes that will stop the planet warming, help everyone adapt to the new conditions and create a world of peace, prosperity and equity,” she said at a webinar to launch the report.
“Climate change is here, now. But we are also here, now. And if we don’t act, who will?”
By signing on to the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations pledged to collectively limit warming to “well below” 2C and an aspirational goal of 1.5C.
The 1.5C has become the focus of global efforts since the IPCC’s 2018 analysis showed how much more devastating an extra half-degree of warming would be.
The IPCC’s most optimistic scenario in today’s report models what happens if CO2 emissions drop 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 and hit net zero by 2050, with all greenhouse gas emissions reaching net zero by around 2070.
Hitting those levels has been the focus of governments at UN climate negotiations, which resume in November at Glasgow’s COP26 summit.
But those efforts have so far fallen far short of what is needed. A March UN report summarising national pledges found that their combined impact put the world on a path to achieve only a 1% reduction by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.
A further 37 countries have since submitted revised nationally determined contributions (NDCs), but less than two-thirds of all the updated pledges were more ambitious than their original plans made in 2015, according to think-tank WRI.
The report did not update the mitigation pathways set out in the IPCC’s 2018 work, which foresaw at least some use of carbon dioxide removals in all its modelled outcomes and removals in the order of 100-1,000 billion tonnes of CO2e over the century in a scenario sticking close to 1.5C.
In an effort to kickstart investment in carbon removals to help drive technologies at scale, a small group of major tech and financial firms have been willing to pay big to source most or all of their voluntary carbon offset requirement from removals, even without updated IPPC guidance.
“There’s no updated information on net zero emission years yet, and no new numbers on CO2 removal volumes,” said Oliver Geden, head of the research at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs on Twitter.
Geden said this information is due next March, when the IPCC will publish the remaining parts of the Sixth Assessment Report.
*** Carbon Pulse’s NDC Tracker outlines the originally-submitted NDCs and the updated versions, featuring main mitigation elements including proposed percentage cuts, baselines and target years, and whether the pledges intend to include international carbon markets ***
By Ben Garside – email@example.com