The risks of climate change have been demonstrated for years. But less attention is paid to ways to actually tackle the problem.
In early April, UN scientists unveiled a plan they believe could help people avoid the worst impacts of rising temperatures on the planet. The report, prepared by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), basically calls for a revolution in the way we produce the energy needed for human activities.
To avoid the great dangers of global warming, carbon emissions must stop growing for the next three years and then fall rapidly. And even then, it will be necessary to use technology to remove CO2 from the air and keep temperatures down.
According to the researchers, there are five fundamental ideas for keeping the planet safe:
1 – Coal needs to retire (again!)
The IPCC report is 63 detailed pages full of observations and complex footnotes. All this verbiage fails to hide the central message from scientists: if the world is to be rid of the dangers of global warming, fossil fuels must be eliminated.
Keeping global warming below 1.5°C requires that emissions stop growing by 2025, according to the researchers, and be reduced by 43% by the end of the decade. The most effective way to achieve this goal is to generate energy from sustainable sources, such as wind and solar.
The authors point to a drastic reduction in the cost of these technologies, which has reached about 85% since 2010. And, although the war in Ukraine is causing European governments to once again flirt with the idea of using coal, which is rich in carbon, the means Politicians clearly accept that cheap sustainable energy is the only way to eliminate Putin’s dependence on the energy sector.
So, for the sake of the planet’s temperature (and current policy), the IPCC believes that coal should finally be retired for good.
“I think this is a very strong message, there should be no new coal-fired power plants. Otherwise, it really is a risk to the 1.5°C threshold,” says Jan Christoph Minx, a professor at the University of Leeds, UK. United Kingdom, and one of the coordinators of the IPCC study.
“I think the big message of the report is that we need to end the age of fossil fuels. And we don’t just have to end it; we need to end it very quickly,” he said.
2 – The improbable becomes reality…
A few years ago, technological solutions to climate change were generally considered wacky ideas. From spraying substances into the atmosphere to cooling the Earth by blocking out the Sun with space shields, many ideas have been ridiculed, criticized and quickly forgotten.
But as the climate crisis mounts and cutting carbon emissions appears to be difficult, researchers are being forced to reexamine the role of technology in limiting and even reducing CO2 from the atmosphere.
The idea of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is now considered entirely normal, after being endorsed by the IPCC in the latest report.
Scientists are clear: it will indeed be impossible to keep temperatures down without some form of carbon removal, whether with trees or air-filtering machines.
But there is a lot of opposition from environmentalists. Some of them accuse the IPCC of giving in to fossil fuel producing countries and placing too much emphasis on technologies that essentially remain unproven.
“The main drawback I see is the fact that the report is very tolerant of the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels,” according to Linda Schneider of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, Germany.
“I was hoping the report would present the most reliable and safe processes for us to reach the 1.5°C limit, without going overboard and relying on technologies that we simply don’t know will work,” she says.
3 – Suppressing demand is a secret weapon
One of the big differences between this report and its previous versions is that social science has a strong presence. It mainly focuses on the idea of reducing people’s energy demand in the fields of housing, mobility and nutrition.
This encompasses a range of issues – including low-carbon food, food waste, how we build our cities and how we bring people more carbon-saving transportation options.
The IPCC believes that changes in these areas could limit emissions from the final consumer sectors by 40-70% by 2050, further increasing people’s well-being. It’s an ambitious goal, but the report is very specific and detailed – and, yes, it will need to have incentives and incentives from governments.
But it seems to be a more or less smooth way to make real impacts.
Combating climate change has often been postponed due to the high costs involved. But that impression has changed in recent years, as the financial bill for climate disasters has steadily grown.
Now, the IPCC is announcing new cost guidance. The bottom line is that to transform the planet, pardon the pun, it will not be necessary to move the world.
The IPCC says there is still a lot of money being spent on fossil fuels rather than clean energy solutions. If government subsidies for fossil fuels were eliminated, emissions would be reduced by up to 10% by 2030, according to Greenpeace.
The IPCC states that, over time, models that incorporate the economic damage caused by climate change demonstrate that the global cost of limiting warming to 2°C over this century is less than the global economic benefits of reducing warming. .
Keeping temperatures well below 2°C costs a little more, but not much, considering the damage avoided and the wide range of benefits that come with it, such as cleaner air and water.
“If you look at the most aggressive scenarios in the report, it would cost at most 0.1% of the considered annual GDP growth,” according to Michael Grubb, a professor at University College London, another of the report’s coordinators.
5 – Attack the rich… or make them examples?
The report renews the emphasis on the disproportionate impact of the rich on the planet. According to the IPCC, the 10% of households with the highest emissions per capita contribute 45% of household greenhouse gas emissions caused by consumption.
Essentially, the report claims that the world’s richest people spend much of their money on mobility, including private planes.
Would it then be the case to subject them to tax increases or other ways of restricting their emissions? Yes, that may be the case, but some IPCC authors believe the rich have other roles to play in helping the world to zero emissions.
“Wealthy individuals disproportionately contribute higher emissions, but have high reduction potential, even while maintaining a high level of well-being and a decent standard of living,” says Patrick Devine-Wright, a lead author on the IPCC, University of Exeter. , in the United Kingdom.
“I think there are individuals with high socioeconomic status who are able to reduce their emissions by becoming role models of a low carbon lifestyle, selecting their investments in low carbon businesses and opportunities and lobbying for strict climate policies,” according to him.
Matt McGrath is an environmental reporter for BBC News. His Twitter account is @mattmcgrathbbc.
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