Unless the world acts with a sense of urgency to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global warming is on pace to reach the catastrophic level of 4.8ºC above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century. That is the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s (IPCC) third and final Working Group report that is part of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on climate change. The report, titled “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change,” concludes that in order to keep global temperatures at or below the scientifically accepted maximum safe level of 2ºC above pre-industrial temperatures, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be reduced by up to 70 percent compared to 2010 levels by mid-century and near zero emissions must be reached by 2100.
Image via Garett Gabriel
“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC report and deputy director and chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
But business as usual is exactly what has been taking place, according to the report. Global greenhouse gas emissions are increasing with 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. Half of all carbon emissions from 1750 to 2010 occurred in the last 40 years.
However, the report strikes an optimistic tone that the climate crisis can be solved and without dramatically altering our way of life or costing too much. The authors write that energy efficiency can be an effective way to reduce GHG emissions via such actions as new building codes and vehicle efficiency standards. Also, scaling up renewable energy such as solar and wind can play a big part in replacing carbon-based power as the price of both solar and wind is falling fast.
In addition to scaling up energy efficiency and renewable energy, addressing short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons, black carbon and tropospheric ozone can slow the rate of global warming and have the added benefit of cleaning up the air.
“Cutting short-lived climate pollutants could cut the current rate of climate change in half by 2050, while preventing more than 2.4 million air-pollution related deaths a year, and avoiding around 35 million tonnes of crop losses annually,” states Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “Cutting SLCPs is one of the best ways to reduce impacts over the next 50 years and beyond.”