Latest IPCC report fortunately shows we can still prevent climate change

The science is clear, where is the political will?

Keith Taylor
5 November 2014

Flickr/Oxfam International. Some rights reserved.

After so many missed opportunities to make positive progress on reducing CO2 emissions the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released on Sunday offers some last minute hope that the worst effects of climate change could still be averted.

The report has confirmed that global warming can still be kept below the international target threshold of 2DegC compared to pre-industrial levels but only if fossil fuels are phased out.

Marking the culmination of a 5-year-effort by 830 authors and 3700 expert reviewers, the report draws on more than 30,000 pieces of research and 143,000 expert comments. It confirms what scientists have been saying for some time: that we can be in no doubt that climate change is happening and that humans have caused the majority of it. 

The report says:

“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen”.

Not only should we be afraid that escalating temperatures will cause major trouble for the climate, we should also expect to see our economies derailed, food security eroded and the exacerbation of social and economic inequalities.

It is this final point within the report about the economic benefits of acting on climate change that is starting to gain most traction and beginning to persuade the more unusual suspects to get serious on the issues. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said: "There is a myth that climate action will cost heavily, but inaction will cost much more."  The worst projected outcomes of failing to act could see entire economies brought to their knees. 

In a world overly obsessed by growth, ambitious mitigation plans would reduce growth by only around 0.06% a year and looking at the low costs, the co-benefits and the savings, it’s clear that climate mitigation is an economic no-brainer.

Instead of just telling us how bad things are, the IPCC are also providing us with some clear answers. The risk posed by climate change can be reduced, but “only if fossil fuel power generation is phased out almost entirely by 2100”.

This is the challenge. If governments can stick to a tight carbon budget and transition away from dirty fossil fuels, we’re in with a chance. This will mean divesting at least $30 billion per year from fossil fuels in coming decades. For those concerned about jobs, this doesn't mean sacking people who work in coal fired power stations for example, but it means re-skilling them in the renewable energy sector instead.

There are some who still believe that transitioning to renewables will only ever be a fairy tale but renewables have improved dramatically over the last 10 years and are becoming more and more cost efficient. In Spain, an impressive 42.4 % of their energy is now provided by renewables and in Germany 31%.

On an island full of massive wind and tidal potential, it’s embarrassing that we’re lagging behind at 14.8% and even more embarrassing that people are turning up to protest against wind-turbines on a regular basis up and down the country. This couldn’t be more short-sighted.

Last week European heads of state and Government agreed on a package to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewables by at least 27%.

However Green MEPs are demanding higher targets because scientists' arguments say that emissions need to be reduced by at least 50% below 1990 levels if we’re to have any chance of preventing a 2 degree rise.

Britain’s Energy Secretary Ed Davey has been leading the calls to raise targets and has been labelled an “unsung hero” by some campaigners.

It’s good that Ed Davey has got this right but this government's record on the environment and climate change has been atrocious and directly contradicts the IPCC’s findings.

Instead of divesting from fossil fuels the government are feeding the addiction by opening up whole swathes of the countryside to fracking and giving the go ahead to nuclear power. The premature scrapping of  the ‘green deal’ was also a bad move.

As a conservative and lacklustre set of EU targets have been set further measures to reduce greenhouse gases must be taken. The European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)—the main tool used to cap emissions—has become a bad joke. New analysis by the climate think tank Sandbag predicts that “by 2020 the ETS could be so over-supplied with tradable permits that it will be almost completely irrelevant.”

Writing in The Guardian, Baroness Bryony Worthington, said:

“(ETS)… Unloved and unpopular it could still persist like a lame cuckoo in the nest, crowding out any possible alternative policies that might be more effective. Throwing it, and the huge surplus, away right now would be beneficial for the environment, as it would remove the ‘hot air’ or spare allowances that have built up which weaken the effect of the 2030 target.”

The IPCC report marks the last word from the scientific community ahead of the very important COP21 meeting in Paris next year. Internationally things may be moving in the right direction but the political will to fully embrace a divestment from fossil fuels to renewables isn’t quite there yet, but we’re working on it.

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