The world has the money and the means to tackle climate change but still isn’t doing so, UN scientists have said after the publication of a landmark report.
Average global temperatures have already increased by 1.1°C and much of the warming for the next decade or so is already locked in because of ongoing emissions, while the impacts on sea levels are set to persist for thousands of years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
As it stands, countries are well off course to meet the pledges they made at the Paris climate conference in 2015, when the 1.5°C target was agreed. Under currently implemented policies, the world will warm between 2.2 and 3.5 °C
Nevertheless, the IPCC report is clear that a pathway to sticking within 1.5°C is still achievable if the right actions are taken, even if the world is not currently on target to meet it.
“There is sufficient global capital to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions if existing barriers are reduced,” the IPCC said on publication of the report.
“The most important message is that we do have the solutions. We do know how to do transformative adaptation. We do know how to incentivize the emission reduction. And that, I think, is the most important message,” said Dr Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College and an author of the report.
“It’s not that we lack some technology or that we lack knowledge. The thing that we are lacking so far globally is the sense of urgency”.
If that urgency does not arise, the report warns, the costs will only increase while more human and natural systems will cease to be viable.
For example, above 1.7°C of warming, much of the tropics would face more than 50 days a year where temperatures are too hot for humans to survive.
The IPCC published its sixth synthesis report on Monday after a week-long session by scientists working in Switzerland.
It will be the last major report from the IPCC for several years, and when the world next hears from the UN body it will likely be clear whether the world has failed to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Reaching the 1.5°C target remains a monumental task. The IPCC says that emissions need to already be falling and to be cut in half by 2030. Last year, global emissions rose again to another record high, although the International Energy Agency said there were signs that they were finally plateauing.
On the other hand, the IPCC notes that the costs of renewable technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and batteries have plunged over the last decade making them both economically and environmentally desirable.
The majority of the IPCC publication, as its name suggests, is a synthesis of the work done by the IPCC over its most recent cycle, which began in 2015.
It contains relatively little new science and is instead intended as a framework on which policymakers across the world can base their decisions.
Nevertheless, in that eight-year period, scientists have developed a firmer understanding of the consequences of climate change.
There is a greater concern about tipping points, beyond which climate change would rapidly accelerate. Once global warming passes 2°C, the IPCC warns that the Earth will reach a point where carbon sinks such as oceans and forests will lose their ability to sequester emissions.
The report also accepts that to the world may overshoot the 1.5°C target and then rely on removing carbon from the atmosphere, either through trees or technology, to return to that level before the end of the century.
Oliver Geden of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and another author of the report said the issue would become significantly more important in the coming years.
“It will probably be one of the major issues in the next assessment cycle. So it’s also building a bridge into the coming IPCC report,” he said.