It’s ‘now or never to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, says UN
• Civil society groups insist reliance on fossil fuels self-destructive

A new flagship United Nations report on climate change was released, yesterday, indicating that harmful carbon emissions from 2010-to 2019 have never been higher in human history.

The report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the third and final report under the Sixth Assessment Cycle (AR6), which looks at climate change mitigation and the solutions and scenarios to limit warming to 1.5°C.

It highlights that rapid, deep and absolute cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, phasing out all fossil fuels, transformative shifts to scale up energy efficiency, renewable energy and electrification, and conservation and restoration of forests and lands — are all aligned with sustainable development, accompanied by substantially increased finance and underpinned by principles of equity — offer the only real chance to avert runaway climate change.  

The science in the report is crystal clear: speculative technological fixes are no substitute for the rapid and managed phase-out of all fossil fuels. Systemic transformations across all sectors of society, particularly the most high-consuming and polluting, within a precious narrowing window of opportunity, can provide a path forward to avoid total climate breakdown and secure a safe, healthy and liveable planet.  

It is proof that the world is on a “fast track” to disaster, António Guterres warned, with scientists arguing that it’s ‘now or never to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The UN Secretary-General insisted that unless governments everywhere reassess their energy policies, the world would be uninhabitable.

His comments reflected the IPCC’s insistence that all countries must reduce their fossil fuel use substantially, extend access to electricity, improve energy efficiency and increase the use of alternative fuels, such as hydrogen.

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Unless action is taken soon, some major cities will be underwater, Guterres said in a video message, which also forecast “unprecedented heat waves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals.”

The UN chief added: “This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree (Celsius, or 2.7-degrees Fahrenheit) limit that was agreed in Paris in 2015.”

Providing the scientific proof to back up that damning assessment, the IPCC report – written by hundreds of leading scientists and agreed upon by 195 countries – noted that greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity, have increased since 2010 “across all major sectors globally.”

An increasing share of emissions can be attributed to towns and cities, the report’s authors continued, adding just as worryingly, that emissions reduction clawed back in the last decade or so “have been less than emissions increases, from rising global activity levels in the industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture and buildings”.

Striking a more positive note – and insisting that it is still possible to halve emissions by 2030 – the IPCC urged governments to ramp up action to curb emissions.

The UN body also welcomed the significant decrease in the cost of renewable energy sources, since 2010, by as much as 85 per cent for solar and wind energy, and batteries.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.

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“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.”

To limit global warming to around 1.5C (2.7°F), the IPCC report insisted that global greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak “before 2025 at the latest and be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030.”

Methane would also need to be reduced by about a third, the report’s authors continued, adding that even if this was achieved, it was “almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold,” although the world “could return to below it by the end of the century.”

For civil society, group leads such as Dr. Stephen Cornelius, WWF Global Lead for IPCC and head of the WWF delegation, “This report shows that while some sectors are heading in the right direction, climate change is moving faster than we are. We cannot hold on any longer to the polluting fossil fuels that are wrecking our climate and destroying the natural world on which we all depend.

“We will miss the crucial goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C unless we dramatically scale up climate solutions to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions. This means investing at scale in powering our societies more efficiently, using clean renewable energy, conserving and restoring nature, moving away from unsustainable business practices and leaving no one behind in this transition. Every moment, every policy, every investment, every decision matters to avoid further climate chaos.”