Science & Nature
‘It’s Now or Never’ To Halt the Worst of Climate Change: New U.N. Report
‘It’s Now or Never’ To Halt the Worst of Climate Change: New U.N. Report
Jul 23, 2024 4:55 PM

TheUnited Nations’Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changereleased the third and final installment of its latest climate assessment report on Monday and while it offered glimmers of hope, the overall picture was bleak.

The report, “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change,” concluded that in order to limit warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — the threshold beyond which significant ecosystem collapse is likely — will require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030. Methane would also need to be reduced by about a third.

And yet global emissions are still growing, albeit less so than in the first half of this century.

“This report tells us that we’re still not doing enough to cut greenhouse gases,” said Inger Andersen, under-secretary general of the United Nations and executive director of the United Nations Environment Program. “Half measures will not halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Increased action must begin this year, not next year; this month, not next month; today, not tomorrow.”

In short,“It’s now or never,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of the working group that created the report. (The report was compiled by 278 authors from 65 countries who analyzed 18,000 scientific papers.)

As the title of the report indicates, the working group focused on the mitigations needed to hit emission lowering targets. Recommendations were made across sectors, including energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, buildings, finance and investment.

“What we have done is set out, very clearly, what needs to happen,” Skea said.

Major transitions are needed in the energy sector, for starters, which accounts for one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. The shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources will be critical, not just in terms of energy, but also for transportation, where the move to electric vehicles is only a win if the power sector in decarbonized, said Diana Urge-Vorsatz, one of the report’s lead authors.

Urban areas need to invest in green and blue infrastructure; industry must minimize waste; and buildings should be retrofit for sustainability and lower energy use, she said. Land usage needs to emphasize the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems that remove and store carbon: forests, peatlands, grasslands, wetlands and savannas.

These mitigations should be top of mind as governments pump resources into their economies to jump-start activity post-COVID, according to the panel.

For the first time in its history, the panel’s assessment also incorporated achapter on consumer demand and behavior, with lifestyle changes among the untapped mitigations.

Those include ditching cars in favor of walking, cycling or transit; reducing air travel or opting for high-speed rail; living in smaller houses, or multi-generational households; reducing food waste; shifting from meat and dairy to other protein sources; buying longer lasting goods in terms of purchases like clothing or appliances; and moderating the cooling and heating of homes. All of which needs to be supported by broader systemic changes, Urge-Vorsatz added.

Lifestyle changes shouldn’t be equated with the austerity of recent COVID-19 restrictions — 2020 being the outlier in terms of witnessing a reduction in global emissions, she said.

Though the pandemic did demonstrate the usefulness of digital technology — when it comes to things like enabling video meetings among global participants versus everyone traveling to a far-flung site — “locking ourselves up is not the way to get to net zero,” said Skea.

It will require commitment from all sectors of society to enact the mitigations laid out by the working group, he said.

“We know what to do. We know how to do it,” Skea said. “We need to take action now ... or1.5 degrees will slip beyond reach.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has three working groups: Working Group I tackled thephysical science basis of climate change;Working Group II dealt with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and Working Group III was charged with the mitigation of climate change.

Contact Patty Wetli:@pattywetli| (773) 509-5623 |[email protected]

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