UN climate report warns urgent action needed to ensure 'liveable future' for all

Carbon capture and storage technology identified as key tool in battle against climate change

Penguins atop an ice float in Antarctica. Photo: Norman McCloskey
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UN scientists have said the international community is standing at a crossroads in determining what type of future it wants, as they issued a clarion call for policies which would help ensure “a liveable future” for all.

In a highly anticipated report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change a panel of experts warned the commitment reaffirmed at Cop26 to keep the 1.5°C pledge alive appears to be “beyond reach” if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced immediately.

The group suggested the widespread use of carbon removal technology would be a key component in the climate fight in the years ahead if the world was to avoid dangerous warming.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the report revealed “a litany of broken climate promises” by governments and corporations, accusing them of stoking global warming by clinging to harmful fossil fuels while making “empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world".

“The jury has reached its verdict and it is damning,” he said. “It is a file of shame. We are on a fast track to climate disaster.”

The report was released on Monday, after a Sunday deadline was missed, and came after scientists held talks with governments to agree on the summary for policymakers. All 195 governments signed off the report, the third communique in the IPCC’s current assessment cycle.

The review included:

· A call for emissions to be halved by the end of the decade, as figures showed levels rose to the highest on record between 2010 and 2019. The authors said a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use would be required as well as widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency and improved use of alternative fuels, such as hydrogen.

· A push for more mitigating actions to counter the effects of climate change. These include carbon capture and storage. Experts said a shift in public transport policies towards electrification and renewables would help communities on their way towards improved health, equity and employment.

· A warning reminding governments “it’s now or never” for decisive action. The authors said limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030. Methane would also need to be brought down by a third. But the scientists said even if such achievements are reached it is almost inevitable that the global community will temporarily exceed the temperature threshold, but could return to below it by the end of the century.

· A cry for policymakers to make sustainable development goals.

· A finding highlighted the sheer lack of financial commitments which have been made in the climate fight. The report found that capital is three to six times lower than the amount needed by 2030 to limit warming to below 2°C. However, the authors stressed there is sufficient global capital and liquidity to close the investment gaps.

Global community at a crossroads

Mr Guterres said “leaders must lead” but consumers must also act and said the international community “owe a debt to young people, civil society and indigenous communities for sounding the alarm and holding leaders accountable.”

In a wide appeal to different sections of society, he said: “If you live in a big city, a rural area, or a small island state, if you invest in the stock market, if you care about justice, and our children’s future, I am appealing directly to you. Demand that renewable energy is introduced now — at speed and at scale, demand an end to coal-fired power, demand an end to all fossil fuel subsidies.”

Mr Guterres said delegates at the Cop26 UN climate summit held in Glasgow last year left departed “with a naive optimism, based on new promises and commitments.”

“But current climate pledges would [still] mean a 14 per cent increase in emissions,” he added. And most major emitters are not taking the steps needed to fulfil even these inadequate promises.”

The report also noted that the cost of low-emission technology such as solar, wind and batteries had dropped by a staggering 85 per cent since 2010.

The authors also highlighted the huge benefits of having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable people to make lifestyle changes which would lower countries carbon emissions. Priyadarshi Shukla, co-chairman of the IPCC Working Group III, said if these factors were in place greenhouse gas emissions could be slashed by 40-70 per cent by 2050.

IPCC chairman Hoesung Lee welcomed recent climate commitments made by some nations, but argued wider action was needed to ensure a sustainable future for all.

“We are at a crossroads,” he said. “The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming.

“I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective.

“If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”

A graph released by the IPCC showed the rise in global net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. It showed carbon emissions from fossil fuels and industry made up 59 per cent of global emissions in 1990, with the figure increasing to 64 per cent in 2019. Carbon emissions from land use, land use change and forestry was put at 11 per cent in 2019, up by one percentage point from 2010. Methane remained at 18 per cent.

Jim Skea, co-chairman of the IPCC Working Group III, said action in this decade is critical if the world is going to reach climate goals.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” he warned. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

Carbon capture key to meeting targets

Masahiro Sugiyama, one of the lead authors of the report, said policies aimed at slashing emissions would not be enough to help the international community reach its climate targets. The associate professor at the University of Tokyo argued there is an increased need for carbon capture and storage.

“One of the key messages of this report is that costs of the key technologies such as solar, wind and electric vehicles have come down greatly,” he said. “This can help us reduce emissions a lot. There exist options in all sectors to reduce emissions by half by 2030.

“This assessment shows that getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions requires more than emissions reductions. It requires a new option called carbon dioxide removal. It involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it on land, in the ground or in the ocean.

“Because CDR [carbon dioxide removal] could come with new risks, getting CDR ready requires proper governance as well as innovation policy.”

Biologist Mercedes Bustamante, another co-author of the report, said agriculture, forestry and other land use contribute to 22 per cent of global emissions and said the sector held the key to reducing levels.

“This sector cannot only provide large-scale reductions of emissions but can also remove and store CO2 at scale.

“Well-designed land-based mitigation options to remove carbon can also benefit biodiversity and ecosystems, help us adapt to climate change, secure livelihoods, improve food and water security.”

Updated: April 04, 2022, 4:05 PM