Major UN climate change report: key takeaways
The new United Nations climate report provides insights into what needs to be done to avert some of the worst impacts of global warming.
Between the lines: The key findings in the report that dropped yesterday are stark, but are not all doom and gloom.
First: In the most jarring finding, researchers concluded that to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets — holding warming to “well below” 2°C, while working to limit it to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels — global carbon dioxide emissions would have to peak by 2025. (Subtle reminder, it's already 2022.)
- Not only that, but emissions would have to be cut by between 30% and more than 40% by 2030.
- Or to put it another way, the world has just three years left to peak emissions, and eight years left to get emissions under sufficient control to meet the Paris targets.
Second: We're so far off course from the Paris targets that the current path would lead us to warming of about 3.2°C (5.8°F) above preindustrial levels.
- Emissions of carbon dioxide during the 2000-19 period ranked as the highest in human history, the report found.
Third: What must be done seems daunting, but it’s actually relatively straightforward: Deploy massive amounts of existing and soon-to-mature clean energy and efficiency technologies while working to advance the options for decarbonizing hard to clean up sectors of the economy.
- The report cites dramatic cost declines in solar, wind and battery technology, for example.
- This chart in the IPCC report shows the climate mitigation potentials of each technology and its lifetime cost, clearly indicating the many options already available.
Fourth: Fossil fuel investments are a one-way ticket to stranded assets (meaning the fossil fuel assets would be unusable).
- About 30% of oil, 50% of gas, and 80% of coal reserves would be unusable if warming is to be limited to the Paris Agreement's 2°C target, the report states.
- Interestingly, the report finds the value of stranded fossil fuel assets could be $4 trillion by 2050 in a world that warms by 2°C above pre-industrial levels, but higher if warming is limited to 1.5°C. This could pose a danger to financial stability, the report notes.
Fifth: Temperatures will stabilize when emissions reach net zero, but doing so and then bringing temperatures down from there will require some use of potentially risky carbon dioxide removal technologies.
One reason the IPCC report is so startling: Its authors have outlined solutions that are completely out of step with current emissions trends (as illustrated above), along with the recent history of greenhouse gas emissions.
Threat level: Global CO2 emissions have increased by 54% since 1990, the IPCC found.
The bottom line: The report revealingly notes the barriers to achieving ambitious emissions cuts are more social and political than technological, with scientists citing "opposition from status quo interests" as a key blocker of progress.
- Asked yesterday about what interests they meant by this, Jim Skea, co-chair of the new report, told reporters, "We're trained to deflect questions like that and I hope I've deflected it sufficiently."