Amid the doom and gloom of uncontrolled climate change, there is room for hope. The world can still halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve its climate goals.
The catch? Emissions will have be swiftly slashed in all economic sectors to allow global emissions to peak by 2025.
These findings come from a report published yesterday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about mitigating the worst effects of a heating climate.
“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Jim Skea, one of the IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair, in a press release. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”
The potentially catastrophic effects of climate change have been painstakingly detailed by scientists in the last several reports released by the IPCC. Even if all of the world’s governments were to suddenly take drastic climate action, global temperatures would still be expected to at least temporarily exceed the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius by the mid-21st century.
Experts have long warned that surpassing this threshold would lead to extensive economic damage in the form of more frequent extreme weather disasters, sea level rise that threatens coastal cities and island states, falling agricultural yields and consequent hunger and instability. For many, this future has already arrived.
So, where is humanity headed from here? In addition to halving greenhouse gas emissions, methane emissions will also have to be cut by a third by 2030, and net-zero carbon dioxide emissions must be achieved by the early 2050s, according to the report.
Fortunately, some progress has already been made, and greenhouse gas emissions are no longer rising as quickly as they were in the 2010s. The report finds that the cost of renewable energy and batteries has dropped by 85 percent since 2010. Meanwhile, climate action is on the rise at the individual level, as are policies that have helped cut emissions, such as steps toward improving energy efficiency and cutting deforestation rates.
“We are at a crossroads,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee in a press release. “The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming.”
The report calls for the decarbonization of the energy sector and highlights the need to sharply reduce the use of fossil fuels and accelerate the transition of the global energy system to renewable sources. Currently available technologies could also reduce emissions tied to fossil fuel extraction: methane leakages, for example, could be cut by 50 to 80 percent.
Cities also present many opportunities to curtail emissions. The report recommends designing more compact and walkable cities with extensive public transportation systems, preferably powered with low-carbon energy sources. Parks, green spaces and permeable surfaces can also be installed in urban areas to increase carbon uptake. Sustainable construction and design, improved energy efficiency and renewable energy policies could reduce global emissions from buildings by up to 61 percent by 2050.
The industrial sector, responsible for around 40 percent of total emissions in 2019, will be more difficult to decarbonize. Possible solutions include new production processes, such as using hydrogen in the steelmaking process. Some industrial processes, like cement production, may need to be replaced with more sustainable alternatives until low-carbon processes are developed.
Agriculture, forestry and other land-use industries can deliver large-scale greenhouse gas emissions, but the report stresses that they cannot replace action in other sectors. Large amounts of carbon can be stored by using natural resources more sustainably. The most effective remedy involves reducing deforestation in tropical areas, along with improved conservation, reducing food waste, restoration and more. These solutions can provide a range of benefits to help communities adapt to climate change, such as by protecting biodiversity and ensuring a sustainable water supply.
All of these initiatives will require a substantial increase in funding. There’s good news, though: there is enough money, and it just requires the political willpower to enact the right policies and direct these financial flows into climate solutions. The cheapest ways to cut emissions are expanding solar and wind energy, improving energy efficiency, preserving natural ecosystems, and reducing methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and waste.
“Without taking into account the economic benefits of reduced adaptation costs or avoided climate impacts, global gross domestic product (GDP) would be just a few percentage points lower in 2050 if we take the actions necessary to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius or below, compared to maintaining current policies,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, the other IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair.
This report is the third and final installation of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Cycle. Every cycle publishes detailed and comprehensive scientific assessments about climate change that are carried out every several years. The final Synthesis Report is set to be released this autumn.