The United Nations group set up to examine the causes and potential solutions to the world's climate crisis released its latest report yesterday on the steps humanity needs to take to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that causing global warming.
The message from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set up by the UN was clear: Governments and citizens around the globe need to act now to protect themselves from the destructive consequences of a disastrously changing climate.
The countries that produce the most greenhouse gases -- led by the U.S. (by far the largest emitter of the gases that cause global warming), Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, and the UK -- already have the tools to limit greenhouse gases, move away from fossil fuels, and reach the international goal of halving global emissions by 2030. But they have to act now.
And the responsibility to finance this energy transition has to fall disproportionately on these countries, because they're responsible for a disproportionate amount of the emissions that are causing the problem in the first place.
The bad news, which the panel made abundantly clear in the last two reports, is that nations have failed to live up to their commitments in the past -- and seem to be backsliding now.
The good news is that the tools exist (or are being developed) to rapidly accelerate the pace of decarbonization and the move away from fossil fuels. And the world doesn't have much time. Greenhouse gas emissions need to peak in 2025 to meet the targets that the UN group has set.
“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,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee, in a statement. “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.”
"Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach," according to a statement from the IPCC. "However, there is increasing evidence of climate action."
Reduced costs of solar and wind power and energy storage make those zero-emission sources of power among the most cost effective in the world for new energy projects and countries are taking steps to boost energy efficiency, reduce deforestation, and ensure that renewable power is developed.
Beyond the existing sources of power generation are some new opportunities to use heat from the earth to generate energy, or use zero emission hydrogen gas for industrial manufacturing -- and, potentially, use fusion energy (the same reactions that happen in the sun) to generate power on Earth.
And governments need to encourage permanent sequestration and long-term utilization of carbon dioxide and other emissions to get the world to its goals.
That's why policies like the ones being promoted in New York State to encourage the adoption of carbon removal and direct air capture and carbon storage technologies are important to invest in now.
The IPCC noted this in the most recent report. “Carbon dioxide removal is essential to achieve net zero [greenhouse-gas emissions],” said Diána Ürge-Vorsatz, vice-chair of the working group that produced the nearly 3,000-page report, according to a report MIT Technology Review.
While carbon dioxide removal is necessary, there are other steps that government and industry need to take according to the UN report.
"Reducing emissions in industry will involve using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimising waste. For basic materials, including steel, building materials and chemicals, low- to zero-greenhouse gas production processes are at their pilot to near-commercial stage," the IPCC said in a statement. "This sector accounts for about a quarter of global emissions. Achieving net zero will be challenging and will require new production processes, low and zero emissions electricity, hydrogen, and, where necessary, carbon capture and storage."
These areas are a roadmap for the kind of innovation investors like FootPrint Coalition and Leonardo DiCaprio's newly formed investment fund Regeneration.VC are financing to address how things are made and consumed across industries like food, clothing, housing, and transportation and mobility.
“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla, in a statement yesterday. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”
Additional opportunities for emissions reductions come from increased efficiency that don't completely transform how the world makes or powers products, but finds ways to reduce the energy and materials used to make things and power our lives.
Cities can electrify more of their public transportation, create more density, and restore and create new natural habitats to provide more nature-based carbon solutions. Consumers can also do their part by switching to electric appliances and replacing energy gulping air conditioners with more efficient heating and cooling options -- even just insulating homes and putting in LEDs can make a huge difference.
“We see examples of zero energy or zero-carbon buildings in almost all climates,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea. “Action in this decade is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.”
So the world has the tools it needs, but we need to take action over the next few years to make a difference. Limiting warming by around 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) means that emissions need to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030, according to the IPCC report.
The global temperature will stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero. For 1.5°C (2.7°F), this means achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2°C (3.6°F), it is in the early 2070s, the UN wrote.
All of this is going to need significant investment from the public and private sectors -- and right now there's nowhere near enough. FootPrint Coalition is joined by partners like Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Lowercarbon Capital, Congruent Ventures, Third Sphere, and a host of other firms to accelerate the growth of businesses providing the key tools and tech needed to reach these global goals.
But more money needs to go to developing economies so that they can avoid the mistakes of the past when building their industries of the future. And more money needs to be invested across the board. The UN noted that investments are three to six times lower than they need to be.
“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.”