IPCC: The window is tight, but there is hope
The more we use our proven low-carbon solutions to cut emissions within the 2020s, the greater our chances of securing a healthier, safer and more liveable future in the long-term. The more we delay action, burn fossil fuels and destroy nature, the more brutal climate change will become.
That is the underlying message in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest scientific report on mitigating climate, released today. It makes clear that emission reductions are moving far too slowly to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and that there is no more room for new fossil fuel developments. The unabated CO2 from existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure alone would blow us past that temperature threshold, it warns.
The findings are dire; the window is tight. The world has already used about four-fifths of the carbon budget that would give us a 50% chance of staying within 1.5°C.
We can find hope in the fact that low-carbon solutions such as renewable energy, batteries and energy efficiency work, and they are growing exponentially as their costs fall. But we need to act quickly if we want to capitalize on their potential, by mobilizing more and more businesses, investors, cities, regions and national governments in the race to a resilient zero-emissions future.
The cost of solar energy and lithium-ion batteries each tumbled by 85% between 2010 and 2019, while the cost of wind energy fell by 55%, according to the IPCC. Solar energy deployment grew more than 10-fold over that period, and electric vehicles more than 100-fold. Digital technologies such as sensors, the Internet of Things, robotics and artificial intelligence can increasingly support wider sustainable development, boosting energy efficiency and rural access to clean energy.
Now we need a lot more of it, especially in developing countries where limited finance, technology development and transfer is making it harder to adopt clean technologies. We need to deliver finance and build capacity in the communities where it’s most needed, and implement projects in a way that avoids the negative side effects the IPCC found, such as low-value employment and reliance on foreign knowledge and suppliers.
In addition, emission reduction work must always be intertwined with efforts to build resilience to the climate impacts we cannot avoid. The IPCC’s February report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability made clear why – as many as 3.6 billion people are already highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as drought, floods, extreme heat, superstorms and increased disease.
The UN-backed Race to Zero and Race to Resilience campaigns are working to mobilize businesses, investors, cities and regions to behind robust commitments for both: halve emissions and regenerate nature between 2020 and 2030, and at the same time build resilience for the 4 billion people most at risk.
The Race to Zero looks forward to working with the UN’s newly assembled expert group on net-zero commitments from the private sector, cities and regions. This will bring added scrutiny to the field, building on the UN High-Level Climate Champions’ work of monitoring the credibility of Race to Zero commitments and annually assembling a group of experts to peer review the campaign’s criteria.
Direct air capture could be a solution for combatting carbon emissions that are hard to avoid – like those from certain industries – and for removing carbon that has been emitted over past decades.
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The NHS – which makes up 4% of the UK’s total carbon footprint – is aiming to reach net zero by 2045. If it succeeds, it’s likely to become the world’s first healthcare system to do so.
The MENA region is already the most water-scarce region in the world – and the increasing temperatures are predicted to lead to more persistent and acute drought. Building resilience is key, which is why effective climate action is vital to limit the worst effects of the climate crisis.