The world has just 12 years to keep global warming to moderate levels, according to the United Nations’ climate science body, which said in its recent report that “unprecedented” carbon-cutting measures will be required over the next decade.
> With global emissions showing few signs of slowing and the United States — the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide — rolling back a suite of Obama-era climate measures, the prospects for meeting the most ambitious goals of the 2015 Paris agreement look increasingly slim. To avoid racing past warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels would require a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of human civilization at a magnitude that has never happened before, the group found.
> “There is no documented historic precedent” for the sweeping change to energy, transportation and other systems required to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote in a report requested as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
> “Frankly, we’ve delivered a message to the governments,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of the IPCC panel and professor at Imperial College London, at a press event following the document’s release. “It’s now their responsibility … to decide whether they can act on it.” He added, “What we’ve done is said what the world needs to do.”
Global efforts — which currently are failing to make meaningful progress toward emissions decline — will need to focus toward “negative emissions” programs that remove carbon from the atmosphere.
> Although the basic technologies exist, they have not caught on widely, and scientists have strongly questioned whether such a program can be scaled up in the brief period available.
As it stands now, goals and promises set by the Paris climate agreement would lead to about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming in the next 100 years.
> In Sunday’s report, the body detailed the magnitude and unprecedented nature of the changes that would be required to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but it held back from taking a specific stand on the feasibility of meeting such an ambitious goal. (An early draft had cited a “very high risk” of warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius; that language is now gone, even if the basic message is still easily inferred.)
> “Even if it is technically possible, without aligning the technical, political and social aspects of feasibility, it is not going to happen,” added Glen Peters, research director of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo. “To limit warming below 1.5 C, or 2 C for that matter, requires all countries and all sectors to act.”
And if they fail? Extreme heat and weather events will continue to rise along with global temperatures, increasing the likelihood and severity of natural disasters, famine, drought and more.
> To avoid that, in barely more than 10 years, the world’s percentage of electricity from renewables such as solar and wind power would have to jump from the current 24 percent to something more like 50 or 60 percent. Coal and gas plants that remain in operation would need to be equipped with technologies, collectively called carbon capture and storage (CCS), that prevent them from emitting carbon dioxide into the air and instead funnel it to be buried underground. By 2050, most coal plants would shut down.
> Cars and other forms of transportation, meanwhile, would need to be shifting strongly toward being electrified, powered by these same renewable energy sources. At present, transportation is far behind the power sector in the shift to low-carbon fuel sources. Right now, according to the International Energy Agency, only 4 percent of road transportation is powered by renewable fuels, and the agency has projected only a 1 percent increase by 2022.