The World Climate: Doom Looming, But Hope Yet Not Lost

global warming earth

The IPCC on Monday released its latest report, which found that nations are falling short of their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avert catastrophic climate change. While the technology exists to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) of average global temperature increase — the goal that virtually every nation agreed to in the 2015 Paris climate agreement and reaffirmed last year in the Glasgow Climate Pact — current policies put the world on a trajectory toward at least twice as much warming.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the report’s conclusion “damning.”

The Working Group III report marks the end of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment, with strong words for countries that have failed to act on climate change.

“The jury has reached a verdict. And it is damning,” Guterres said in a statement. “This report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a litany of broken climate promises. It is a file of shame, cataloging the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world.”

The IPCC report included 278 authors from 65 countries reviewing over 18,000 scientific papers.

According to their findings, to meet the 1.5°C target, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have to start dropping in 2025 and go down 43% from current levels by 2030 — and 84% by 2050. Achieving that requires ambitious actions from large emitters such as the US, the EU and China in the next few years. Waiting longer, the scientific consortium warned, will mean economic losses from the impacts of climate change such as drought, wildfires and sea level rise.

Even limiting warming to 2°C (3.6°F) would require peaking emissions by 2025 and cutting them by roughly one-quarter by 2030.

Without a dramatic shift in policy, Guterres warned, “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.”

The closest the IPCC came to sharing good news was revealing that the GHG emissions causing climate change are growing more slowly than in the past, thanks to increased energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies — particularly battery storage that is essential to widespread reliance on wind and solar energy. Global emissions are at their highest level in history: 54% higher than in 1990, and 12% higher than they were in 2010. Emissions growth slowed from 2.1% per year in the 2000s to 1.3% annually in the 2010s.

The pathway to averting catastrophe is now clear and technologically feasible: Rapidly redesign the power sector to rely on renewable energy, switch transportation and heating to electric systems, and capture the carbon dioxide from the smokestack in the hardest-to-decarbonize sectors such as cement and steel production. For the situations where that is infeasible, such as air travel, carbon emissions can be offset with the emerging technology of actually removing carbon from the atmosphere.

A key problem is that energy utilities, car manufacturers, airlines, steel producers and other industries have no financial incentive to act without governments offering rewards or penalties to encourage participation.

“Does the technology exist so that you could pull this off? The answer is yeah, it does,” Jae Edmonds, chief scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Joint Global Change Research Institute and a co-author of the IPCC report, told Yahoo News. “Do we have the policies and measures that have put us on track to get to net-zero [emissions] by a 2050 time frame? Not yet.”

Edmonds likened the current approach taken in Paris and Glasgow to reducing emissions as “the church model: We are gonna fund this by passing the collection plate around and we’re gonna take up a collection of emissions mitigation and see where that gets us. And even if everyone were to complete their nationally determined contribution, it does not look like that’s going to be enough.”

Just operating the existing fossil fuel infrastructure — the oil and gas wells and pipelines, the coal mines and the coal- or gas-fired power plants for the rest of their natural lives — puts 1.5°C out of reach. And if every currently planned fossil fuel project is completed, it would only guarantee that the world warms more than 2°C. To stay below 1.5°C, the use of coal must be virtually eliminated by 2050, according to the IPCC, and oil use must decrease by at least 60% and gas by 45%.

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment in 2014 predated two notable shifts that were central to the latest report: the increasingly universal agreement in the scientific community that 1.5°C is the threshold for triggering devastating and irreversible effects of climate change, and the increasing prevalence and awareness of methane emissions. Methane is a long-overlooked but powerful greenhouse gas, and emissions of it are rapidly rising as natural gas displaces coal and demand for meat grows. (Methane is emitted when natural gas leaks instead of being burned, and it is a byproduct of the digestive process of farm animals.) The IPCC states that fast, deep cuts to methane emissions are essential to getting warming mitigation on target.

To stay below 1.5°C, carbon dioxide emissions must fall by 48% by 2030 and by 80% by 2040; methane emissions must fall by 34% by 2030 and 44% by 2040.

The IPCC is more bullish on wind and solar energy than on other low-carbon energy technology such as nuclear energy and hydropower, noting that costs have come down faster in the wind and solar industries. “From 2010–2019, there have been sustained decreases in the unit costs of solar energy (85%), wind energy (55%), and lithium-ion batteries (85%),” the IPCC report notes. (Lithium-ion batteries are needed for electric vehicles.)

Special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry hailed the IPCC report as a call to action. “The stakes are clear,” Kerry said in a statement. “Complacency will be met by irreversible and unthinkable impacts from climate change. Every country must move further and faster. Faster means rapidly upscaling deployment of renewable energy. Faster means targeting methane emissions. Faster means reducing demand and focusing on efficiency. Faster means halting and reversing global deforestation. Faster means demanding more sustainable transit.

“The IPCC report is a reminder that mitigation is not about cost,” Kerry argued. “It is about investment — in our future, our children’s future, and our planet’s future.”

“This report tells us we are not doing enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said United Nations Environment Program Executive Director Inger Andersen at a press conference on Monday morning. “The solution has to be to kick-start the transition to renewable and cleaner sources of energy. Increased action must begin this year, not next year, this month, not next month, not tomorrow. Otherwise, we will continue, as the secretary-general warned, to sleepwalk into catastrophe.”

IPCC Scientists Report Five Ways To Save The Planet

A BBC report said:

The UN scientists laid out a plan that they believe could help people avoid the worst impacts of rising temperatures.

The report, by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), essentially calls for a revolution in how we produce energy and power our world.

To avoid very dangerous warming, carbon emissions need to peak within three years, and fall rapidly after that.

Even then, technology to pull CO2 from the air will still be needed to keep temperatures down.

Here are five key ideas that the researchers say are critical to keeping the world safe.

1. Coal is on the dole (again!)

The 63 dense pages of this IPCC report are littered with qualifications and dense footnotes.

But all the verbiage cannot hide the scientists’ central message. If the world wants to steer clear of dangerous warming, fossil fuels are toast.

Keeping the world under 1.5C requires emissions to peak by 2025, the researchers say, and shrink by 43% by the end of this decade.

The most effective way of making that switch is to generate energy from sustainable sources like wind and solar.

The authors point to the collapse in costs of these technologies, down around 85% across the decade from 2010.

So for the temperature of the planet (as well as the politics of the present), the IPCC believes that coal should finally be retired for good.

“I think that’s a very strong message, no new coal power plants. Otherwise, you’re really risking 1.5C,” said Prof Jan Christoph Minx, from the University of Leeds, and an IPCC co-ordinating lead author.

“I think the big message coming from here is we need to end the age of fossil fuel. And we don’t only need to end it, but we need to end it very quickly.”

2. Pie in the sky gets real….

A few short years ago, the idea of a technological fix to climate change was generally seen as the preserve of the eccentric.

From spraying things into the atmosphere to cool the Earth to blocking out the Sun with space-based shields, various ideas were mocked, knocked and quickly forgotten.

But as the climate crisis has escalated and cutting carbon emissions has proven difficult, researchers have been forced to look again at the role of technology in both limiting and reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.

The idea of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) has now gone fully mainstream with the endorsement of the IPCC in this latest report.

The scientists are blunt – keeping temperatures down would not really be possible without some form of removal, be it via trees or air filtering machines.

There is a lot of opposition from environmentalists, some of whom accuse the IPCC of giving in to fossil fuel producing countries and putting far too much emphasis on technologies that in essence remain unproven.

“The major shortcoming that I see is that the report is way too weak on the rapid phase out of fossil fuels,” said Linda Schneider from the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin.

“I would have hoped that the report would have put forward the most reliable kind of safe pathways towards 1.5C without an overshoot and reliance on technologies that we just don’t know if they will work.”

3. Curbing demand is a secret weapon

One of the big differences with this report from previous releases is that social science features heavily.

This is mainly focused on the ideas of reducing people’s demand for energy in the areas of shelter, mobility and nutrition.

This covers a multitude of areas – including low carbon diets, food waste, how we build our cities, and how we shift people to more carbon friendly transport options.

Electric cars can make a big difference to emissions from transport but need investment in charging technology to speed the uptake

The IPCC believes changes in these areas could limit emissions from end-use sectors by 40-70% by 2050, while improving well-being.

That is a huge goal but the report is quite specific and detailed – and yes it will take incentives and nudges from governments.

But it feels like a fairly painless way to really make an impact.

4. Cooling the planet with cash…

Tackling climate change has often been delayed due to the perceived high-cost implications.

But that sense has changed in recent years as the financial toll of climate disasters has steadily climbed.

Now the IPCC are weighing in with some new guidance on the costs.

The bottom line is that transforming our world, would not (and please pardon the pun) cost the Earth.

Right now, the IPCC says there is far too much money still flowing towards fossil fuels and not to clean energy climate solutions.

If fossil fuel subsidies from governments were removed, this would reduce emissions by up to 10% by 2030, according to Greenpeace.

In the longer term, the IPCC says that models that incorporate the economic damages caused by climate change show that the global cost of limiting warming to 2C over this century is lower than the global economic benefits of reducing warming.

Keeping temperatures well under 2C costs a bit more, but not much, given the avoided damages, and wide range of co-benefits such as cleaner air and water.

“If you take the most aggressive scenarios in the entire report, it would cost, at most 0.1% of the rate of annual GDP growth assumed,” said Prof Michael Grubb, from University College London, a co-ordinating lead author of the report.

5. Eat the rich…or copy them?

There is renewed emphasis in this report on the outsized impact that richer people are having on the planet.

According to the IPCC, the 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute up to 45% of consumption-based household greenhouse gas emissions.

In essence, the report says that the world’s richest people are spending way too much of their money on mobility, including on private jets.

So you would think that this would make them good targets for greater taxation or other means of curtailing their emissions?

That may well be the case, but some IPCC authors believe the rich have other roles to play in helping the world towards net-zero.

“Wealthy individuals contribute disproportionately to higher emissions but they have a high potential for emissions reductions, whilst maintaining high levels of well-being and a decent living standard,” said Prof Patrick Devine-Wright, an IPCC lead author from the University of Exeter.

“I think there are individuals with high socioeconomic status who are capable of reducing their emissions by becoming role models of low carbon lifestyles, by choosing to invest in low carbon businesses and opportunities, and by lobbying for strident for stringent climate policies.”

Climate is facing doom

The Earth’s climate is facing doom. Urgent climate actions are needed to avoid the looming doom.

An AP report — No obituary for Earth: Scientists fight climate doom talk — said:

‘It is not the end of the world. It only seems that way.

‘Climate change is going to get worse, but as gloomy as the latest scientific reports are, including today’s from the United Nations, scientist after scientist stresses that curbing global warming is not hopeless. The science says it is not game over for planet Earth or humanity. Action can prevent some of the worst if done soon, they say.

‘After decades of trying to get the public’s attention, spur action by governments and fight against organized movements denying the science, climate researchers say they have a new fight on their hands: doomism. It is the feeling that nothing can be done, so why bother. It is young people publicly swearing off having children because of climate change.’

The AP report cited University of Maine climate scientist Jacquelyn Gill:

The scientist ‘noticed in 2018 fewer people telling her climate change is not real and more “people that we now call doomers that you know believe that nothing can be done.” Gill says it is just not true.

‘“I refuse to write off or write an obituary for something that’s still alive,” Gill told The Associated Press, referring to the Earth. “We are not through a threshold or past the threshold. There’s no such thing as pass-fail when it comes to the climate crisis.”

‘“It’s really, really, really hard to walk people back from that ledge,” Gill said.’

The report cited Wooster College psychology professor Susan Clayton, who studies climate change anxiety and spoke at a conference in Norway last week that addressed the issue:

‘Doomism “is definitely a thing. It is a way of saying ‘I don’t have to go to the effort of making changes because there’s nothing I can do anyway.’”

‘Gill and six other scientists who talked with The Associated Press about doomism aren’t sugarcoating the escalating harm to the climate from accumulating emissions. But that doesn’t make it hopeless, they said.

‘“Everybody knows it’s going to get worse,” said Woodwell Climate Research Center scientist Jennifer Francis. “We can do a lot to make it less bad than the worst case scenario.”’

The AP report said:

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just issued its third report in six months. The first two were on how bad warming is and how it will hurt people and ecosystems, with today’s report focusing on how the extent of disruption depends on how much fossil fuels are burned. It shows the world is still heading in the wrong direction in its fight to curb climate change, with new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and forests falling to make way for agriculture.

It added:

‘“It’s not that they’re saying you are condemned to a future of destruction and increasing misery,” said Christiana Figueres, the former U.N. climate secretary who helped forge the 2015 Paris climate agreement and now runs an organization called Global Optimism. “What they’re saying is ‘the business-as-usual path … is an atlas of misery ’ or a future of increasing destruction. But we don’t have to choose that. And that’s the piece, the second piece, that sort of always gets dropped out of the conversation.”’

The report also cited UN Environment Program (UNEP) Director Inger Andersen.

The UNEP director said with reports like these, officials are walking a tightrope. They are trying to spur the world to action because scientists are calling this a crisis. But they also do not want to send people spiraling into paralysis because it is too gloomy.

“We are not doomed, but rapid action is absolutely essential,” Andersen said. “With every month or year that we delay action, climate change becomes more complex, expensive and difficult to overcome.”

The report said:

‘“The big message we have got (is that) human activities got us into this problem and human agency can actually get us out of it again,” James Skea, co-chair of Monday’s report, said. “It is not all lost. We really have the chance to do something.”

‘Monday’s report details that it is unlikely, without immediate and drastic carbon pollution cuts, that the world will limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, which is the world’s agreed upon goal. The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit). And earlier IPCC reports have shown that after 1.5 degrees, more people die, more ecosystems are in trouble and climate change worsens rapidly.

‘“We do not fall over the cliff at 1.5 degrees,” Skea said, “Even if we were to go beyond 1.5 it does not mean we throw up our hands in despair.”

‘IPCC reports showed that depending on how much coal, oil, and natural gas is burned, warming by 2100 could be anywhere from 1.4 to 4.4 degrees Celsius (2.5 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, which can mean large differences in sickness, death and weather disasters.

‘While he sees the increase in doom talk as inevitable, NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt said he knows first-hand that people are wrong when they say nothing can be done: “I work with people and I’m watching other people and I am seeing the administration. And people are doing things and they are doing the right things for the most part as best they can. So I am seeing people do things.”

‘Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said scientists used to think Earth would be committed to decades of future warming even after people stopped pumping more carbon dioxide into the air than nature takes out. But newer analyses in recent years show it will only take a few years after net zero emissions for carbon levels in the air to start to go down because of carbon being sucked up by the oceans and forests, Mann said.

‘Scientists’ legitimate worries get repeated and amplified like in the kids game of telephone and “by the time you are done, it is ‘we are doomed’ when what the scientist actually said was we need to reduce or carbon emissions 50% within this decade to avoid 1.5 (degrees of) warming, which would be really bad. Two degrees of warming would be far worse than 1.5 warming, but not the end of civilization,” Mann said.

‘Mann said doomism has become far more of a threat than denialism and he believes that some of the same people, trade associations and companies that denied climate change are encouraging people who say it is too late. Mann is battling publicly with a retired University of Arizona ecologist, Guy McPherson, an intellectual leader of the doom movement.

‘McPherson said he is not part of the monetary system, has not had a paycheck in 13 years, does not vote and lived off the grid for a decade. He said all species go extinct and humans are no exception. He publicly predicted humanity will go extinct in 2026, but in an interview with The Associated Press said, “I am not nearly as stuck on 2026,” and mentioned 2030 and changes to human habitat from the loss of Arctic summer sea ice.

‘Woodwell’s Francis, a pioneer in the study of Arctic sea ice who McPherson said he admires, said while the Arctic will be ice free by the summer by 2050, McPherson exaggerates the bad effects. Local Arctic residents will be hit hard, “the rest of us will experience accelerated warming and sea-level rise, disrupted weather patterns and more frequent extreme weather. Most communities will adapt to varying degrees,” Francis said. “There is no way in hell humans will go extinct by 2026.”

‘Humans probably can no longer prevent Arctic sea ice from disappearing in the summer, but with new technology and emissions cuts, Francis said, “we stand a real chance of preventing those (other) catastrophic scenarios out there.”

‘Psychology professor Clayton said “no matter how bad things are, they can always be worse. You can make a difference between bad and worse… That’s very powerful, very self-affirming.”’

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