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IPCC finds climate options dwindling

Nations have just a few years left to achieve the 2015 Paris Agreement's goals of limiting global warming to a rise of 1.5 or 2 degrees C., climate experts say.

Wind turbines near Pueblo, Colorado, which aims for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050
Wind turbines near Pueblo, Colorado, which aims for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 (AN/J. Heilprin)

GENEVA (AN) — Nations must immediately adopt cleaner energy sources to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, the United Nations' Nobel Prize-winning panel of top climate scientists reported on Monday.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the world only has eight more years to eliminate fossil fuel-burning energy sources that overheat the planet before the 1.5 degrees C. goal will be unattainable. The treaty’s next-best goal is to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, though the world already has warmed by more than 1 degree.

That means the choice is effectively between four-fifths or three-tenths of a degree more warming. Nations also committed to mobilizing US$100 billion a year in climate financing for developing nations’ adaptation and resilience to rising temperatures.

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

The IPCC says solar and wind energy costs have fallen by up to 85% since 2010, making the case for a rapid transition to a non-fossil fuel portfolio far more realistic. More policies and laws also have enhanced energy efficiency, it says, which has had the additional effect of lowering deforestation rates.

The panel's experts note emissions can be lowered if people take more walks and use electric vehicles in urban areas. “We see examples of zero energy or zero carbon buildings in almost all climates,” said Jim Skea, a British professor of sustainable energy who co-chairs an IPCC working group.  “Action in this decade is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.”

Skea said "it's now or never" if the world wants to stick to the 1.5 degrees threshold, which will require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and to be reduced by 43% by 2030. Net zero carbon emissions would then have to be reached globally in the early 2050s.

'They are lying'

For the 2 degrees threshold, the world also must ensure that global greenhouse gas emissions peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by a quarter by 2030, before achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2070s.

“Climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production,” said Skea. “This report shows how taking action now can move us towards a fairer, more sustainable world.”

The report is part of IPCC's sixth round of comprehensive reports that assess the science behind climate change. Each round is published every six to seven years; the fifth round, completed in 2014, formed the basis for the groundbreaking Paris treaty.

Several previous reports that are part of the sixth round were released starting last year. A concluding report that synthesizes all of the latest findings is expected this fall.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the latest report as a "verdict" on nations and leaders whose unfulfilled actions amount to "a litany of broken climate promises."

"It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world. We are on a fast track to climate disaster: Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals," Guterres said.

"This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies," he said. "We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5 degree limit agreed in Paris. Some government and business leaders are saying one thing — but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic. This is a climate emergency."