UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has declared a groundbreaking report on climate change a “survival guide for humanity” and urged all countries to bring forward their net zero plans by a decade.
The report, a result of a meeting in Switzerland, highlights the necessity of rapid fossil fuel cuts to avert the worst effects of climate change, as the planet is likely to miss its key global temperature target. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the scientific body that advises the UN on rising temperatures — released the new study which contains landmark findings on the causes, impacts, and solutions to climate change since 2018.
The authors express optimism that dramatic changes can be achieved rapidly through clean energy, technology, and lifestyle changes. According to findings, the world has already warmed by 1.1°C, and it is likely to breach the 1.5°C target in the 2030s. The UK government, acknowledging the urgency of the situation, has called for “far more ambitious climate commitments” ahead of the UN climate summit COP28 in November.
Countries expected to be worst hit by climate change, such as small islands in the Pacific, have voiced their concerns. Dr. Pa’olelei Luteru, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States Fatumanava-o-Upolu III, said, “While our people are being displaced from their homes and climate commitments go unmet, the fossil fuel industry is enjoying billions in profits. There can be no excuses for this continued lack of action”.
The IPCC’s report has also revealed that by 2100, extreme coastal flooding that used to occur once a century will likely happen at least annually in half of the world’s tidal gauge locations. Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are at their highest in 2 million years, and the world is warmer than at any time in the past 125,000 years.
The report emphasises that projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure, such as oil wells and gas pipelines, would exceed the remaining carbon budget for staying under the 1.5°C threshold. Dr. Oliver Geden, from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, stated, “The remaining carbon budget in opening new fossil fuel infrastructure is certainly not compatible with the 1.5°C target”.
However, the authors argue that surpassing 1.5°C may only be a “temporary overshoot” and that significant changes can be achieved rapidly by harnessing the massive reductions in solar and wind energy prices. They also highlight the importance of consumer-driven changes in diet, food waste reduction, and low-carbon transportation in achieving substantial emission reductions across multiple sectors.
Nevertheless, the report acknowledges the need for large-scale carbon dioxide removal technology in addition to reaching net zero emissions as soon as possible. Critics like Lili Fuhr from the Centre for International Environmental Law have expressed doubts, calling carbon capture and storage ideas a “massive distraction”.
Guterres, echoing the report’s urgency, calls for leaders of developed countries to commit to reaching net zero as close to 2040 as possible, and urges countries like India and China, who have announced net zero plans for beyond 2050, to bring their goals forward by a decade.