Jhe continued warming of the planet means this year is likely to be one of the coldest this century. As the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes clear, current climate commitments by governments would not keep global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial – the goal promised in the 2015 Paris agreement. Instead, greenhouse gas emissions are rising. Over the past decade, on average each year, they have reached their highest levels in human history.
The world is on track for temperature increases of more than 3°C in the coming decades. It would make large parts of the world too hot to work on. Severe crop failures will become common. The disappearance of the ice caps would overwhelm the big cities. Until now, governments have been far too hesitant to prey on vested interests and are only too ready to protect historic fossil fuel investments.
This cannot go on. António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, was right to say that the world “is on the fast track to climate catastrophe”. Nations and corporations, he said candidly, are not just turning a blind eye to planetary catastrophe, but adding fuel to the flames. There is very little time left to implement policies that promote the necessary greener lifestyle choices and cheaper renewable solutions that would generate jobs, energy security and price stability.
To reach 1.5°C, the world must reduce annual CO2 by around 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050, while reducing methane emissions by a third by 2030 and nearly half by 2050. This will require significant reductions in the use of fossil fuels. The IPCC says large-scale electrification – particularly crucial to enable the decarbonisation of road transport, industry, mining and manufacturing – powered by renewable sources, is indisputable. UN scientists say energy efficiency and conservation are key to achieving a greener and safer future.
There are some successes: at least 18 countries have maintained production-based greenhouse gas and consumption-based carbon dioxide emission reductions for more than a decade. Much of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere was released by wealthy countries that burned coal, oil and gas to industrialize more than a century ago. The UN panel said around 40% of emissions since then have come from Europe and North America. Only about 12% can be attributed to East Asia, including China.
It is in the richest 10% of households, which contribute between a third and 45% of the smoke responsible for climate change, that change will have to occur most rapidly. There are some quick political wins. Better crop management has an immediate return on investment. Solar and wind power are improving faster and being adopted faster than nuclear or carbon capture technologies. Diets high in plant protein and low in meat and dairy are associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions and are increasingly popular.
Global temperatures are likely to “exceed” the 1.5°C promised by the Paris Agreement. Even in one of the least bad scenarios, the IPCC says that a temporary breach of this limit by a miniscule 0.2C before dropping back down to around 1.4C by the end of the century could still trigger irreversible impacts. such as dead coral reefs. The pandemic was an opportunity to quickly move away from fossil fuels and was missed by most governments. Russia’s immoral war in Ukraine offers another chance for nations concerned about overreliance on hydrocarbons to do the right thing.