by Nia Jones
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body for assessing climate change science, has published a critical report combining the work of 91 authors and editors from 40 countries.
It highlights how we are already seeing the consequences of 1 °C global warming through diminishing arctic sea ice, frequent extreme weather events and rising sea levels. It advises that warming is kept to 1.5 °C, which could be exceeded by 2030 if no action is taken.
Limiting warming to 1.5 °C instead of 2 °C or higher could greatly reduce the impact of climate change and save millions of lives in the process. With 1.5 °C of warming, 700 million will be exposed to extreme heat waves at least once every 20 years; this would rise to 2 billion with 2 °C of warming. Greater warming could also mean 3 million more people are impacted by rising sea levels, a 170% increase in flood risk, and the loss of virtually all coral reefs by 2100.
To limit warming, the world will need to make “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. Annual average investment into the energy system needs to be around $2.4 trillion between 2016 and 2035, a beneficial investment as there will be greater economic growth and less risk of disaster with lower levels of warming. To achieve this ambitious target, the world will need to be completely carbon neutral by 2050 with an estimated 85% of global electricity provided by renewable sources.
To be able to cap warming at the necessary levels, ground-breaking policy and ambitious technologies need to be adopted. Professor Ian Hall, climate scientist and Head of the School of Earth & Ocean Sciences at Cardiff University says “yes, it can be done but we need to act now otherwise we will run out of time. The UK government is taking it seriously and should be applauded, but a push from the public will make governments act quickly”. He says, “what’s interesting as a scientist is that this will require carbon dioxide removal on the order of 100 – 1000 giga tonnes of carbon over the 21st century”. The report states that this technology needs effective governance to secure a sustainable way of removing carbon from our atmosphere.
This may be the wakeup call that global governments needs to respond to the looming threat of climate change. As Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s GISS, said: “it’s clear that the best time to have reduced emissions was 25 years ago, but the second best to reduce emissions is right now.”