We need to phase out fossil fuels to limit global warming, warns new IPCC report

The report looks at current emission trends and suggests methods to cut carbon and greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of this century

Representative image
Representative image

NH Web Desk

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its recently released report, has stated that it won’t be possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial level unless countries drastically accelerate efforts to phase out fossil fuel infrastructure rapidly and increase funding for clean and renewable sources of energy.

The report by the UN-backed inter-governmental body looks at current emission trends and suggests methods to cut carbon and greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of this century, which is the goal of the Paris agreement signed in 2015.

The report observes that to have a 50% chance of avoiding more than 1.5°C of warming throughout the 21st century, global carbon emissions will have to reach net zero (where no more carbon is released into the atmosphere than is removed) in the early 2050s. To have a 50% chance of keeping warming below 2°C, global carbon emissions must reach net-zero by the early 2070s. For both, emissions of all greenhouse gases must peak by 2025.

This means that to hold global warming to 1.5°C, global use of coal must decline by 95% by 2050. Use of oil must drop by 60% and gas by 45% over the same period. The decreases needed to limit warming below 2°C are not much lower. Under all these scenarios, there is no room for new fossil-fuel projects, and most existing ones will have to be wound down.

The IPCC found that, despite promises from almost all countries, the jump in average annual net greenhouse-gas emissions between 2000-09 and 2010-19, was the “highest increase in average decadal emissions on record”. However, the rate of growth between 2010 and 2019 was lower than that between 2000 and 2009.

Globally, 10% households with the highest per capita emissions contribute 34-45% of global consumption-based household emissions, while the middle 40% contribute 40-53%, and the bottom 50% contribute about 13-15%.

The United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres said, “This is a climate emergency. It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world.”

According to the IPCC, agriculture, travel and most industries will have to be transformed. The potential avenues outlined by the IPCC to limit warming to 2°C all also rely on carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere using natural strategies, such as sequestering it in trees and soils.

The report estimates that taking the actions needed to keep temperatures below 2°C could reduce global GDP by 1.3% to 2.7% by 2050, when compared with sticking only to the climate policies that the countries have already announced. However, if we do not adopt new climate policies, lives and livelihoods will be lost and there will be severe destruction due to extreme weather events.

The report, which was approved by 195 governments, lays out strategies which countries could pursue to halt global warming.

The reports observed that reducing emissions across the full energy sector requires major transitions, including a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use, the deployment of low-emission energy sources, switching to alternative energy carriers, and energy efficiency and conservation.

The net-zero CO2 energy systems entail a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use, minimal use of unabated fossil fuels, and use of CCS in the remaining fossil system; electricity systems that emit no net CO2; widespread electrification of the energy system including end uses; energy carriers such as sustainable biofuels, low-emissions hydrogen, and derivatives in applications less amenable to electrification; energy conservation and efficiency; and greater physical, institutional, and operational integration across the energy system.

“Low-emission energy sector transitions will have multiple co-benefits, including improvements in air quality and health. The long-term economic attractiveness of deploying energy system mitigation options depends, on policy design and implementation, technology availability and performance and political support, stated the report.

The use of steel, cement, plastics, and other materials is increasing globally, and in most regions. There are many sustainable options for demand management, materials efficiency, and circular material flows that can contribute to reduced emissions, but how these can be applied will vary across regions and different materials.

The report pointed out that countries will need to address emissions from deforestation and agriculture, which account for around a fifth of global greenhouse gases. Winding down coal, oil and gas projects would mean job losses and financial dislocation, explains the report.

In the developing world, governments still need to expand access to electricity and modern cooking fuels for hundreds of millions of the poorest people, which might only be possible in the short term by burning more fossil fuels, states the report.

Adoption of low-emission technologies lags in most developing countries, particularly least developed ones, due in part to the weak enabling conditions, including limited finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity. In many countries, especially those with limited institutional capacities, several adverse side-effects have been observed as a result of diffusion of low-emission technology, stated the report.

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