The world is living under unprecedented climate pressure, with some irreversible damage and an even shorter time frame to act. On the other hand, immediate action still gives chances to contain the most severe effects of the crisis and technological solutions are cheaper and more accessible.
This is the main message that the UN climate scientific panel (IPCC) gives to governments this Monday (20), at the summary report of its sixth evaluation cycle.
The panel’s recommendations should guide public policy and diplomatic negotiations until the end of the decade, when scientists should again approve new reports. The period is crucial to change the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, which must be cut by at least 48% by 2030 for the world to contain global warming by up to 1.5ºC.
The good news from the report — which adopts an encouraging tone in its executive summary — is that the world has enough resources and technologies to reduce emissions and change the socioeconomic system.
“Various mitigation options are technically feasible, are becoming increasingly cost-effective and are generally supported by the public,” says the report, which cites as examples solar and wind energy sources, electrification of urban systems, urban green infrastructure, efficiency energy, demand management, better forest and crop management, and reduced food waste.
“From 2010 to 2019, there have been sustained reductions in unit costs for solar power (85%), wind power (55%) and lithium-ion batteries (85%) and large increases in their deployment, for example, and more than ten times for solar energy and more than a hundred times for electric vehicles, varying widely between regions”, says the study.
The report also brings a warning about the cost of not making the energy transition. “Maintaining high-emission systems can, in some regions and sectors, be more expensive than transitioning to low-emission systems.”
As the world is already feeling the adverse effects of climate, climate adaptation policies have become as urgent as mitigation policies —that is, preparing the ground to lessen the impact of damage from extreme events such as rains, floods, droughts and hurricanes, it is as urgent and important as reducing the emissions that cause climate change.
“Since there are limits to adaptation, you need to cut emissions very heavily, too, for adaptation strategies to work,” explains Mercedes Bustamantepresident of Capes (Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel) and one of the reviewers of the AR6 synthesis report (Sixth Assessment Report).
The climate panel’s recommendation is that funding for the two lines of action be treated on an equal basis, also taking advantage of the synergies between these policies and other sustainable development priorities.
“It is possible to achieve the eradication of extreme poverty and energy poverty and provide decent living standards without significant increases in global emissions”, states the text.
Money, a fundamental component for the energy transition, was also studied by the panel. The main conclusion is that the average annual investment needs to increase three to six times compared to current amounts.
In addition to lowering financial barriers to climate solutions, the panel recommends that governments align public finances in order to reduce risks and regulatory, cost and market barriers, improving the risk-return profile of investments.
“The Credit Suisse bankruptcy mobilized $100 billion overnight, which is what developing countries have been trying to get for ten years in negotiations. To save a bank, that money appears overnight. To save millions of people —from hunger, drought, rising sea levels— that money doesn’t exist”, says Paulo Artaxo, a physicist at USP and member of the IPCC.
Despite showing viable, cheaper solutions capable of achieving the goal of reducing emissions by half by 2030, the report also shows that the scenarios have become narrower.
“Discussions on the practical aspects of [se limitar o aquecimento em] 1.5ºC or 2ºC become less relevant, since the effort required in this decade is the same”, points out the report.
The present generations must already be the target of the severe effects of the climate at the end of the century. Babies born during the coronavirus pandemic, in 2020, must therefore witness the climate scenarios predicted for the end of the century.
At the age of 70 in 2090, this generation could face forced migration, malnutrition, water scarcity, low agricultural productivity, zoonoses and even mental illnesses linked to the climate crisis, on scales of intensity and frequency that vary according to the average temperature level until then. .
Current extreme weather events already show that this impact is uneven. “We are seeing this with the rains in São Sebastião [litoral norte de SP]: poor populations are dying,” Artaxo points out. The increase in social, regional and gender inequalities is another prediction reinforced in the report.
He also points out the unequal responsibility of consumers in countries with high emission rates in relation to less developed countries.
Around 34% to 45% of global emissions linked to the consumption of goods and services (emissions from deforestation and land use change are excluded here) are concentrated in 10% of the global population, while another 50% of the population contributes with only 13% to 15% of emissions linked to consumption.
The approval of the report is the result of a plenary session that lasted all week and, in the last few days, had the editors go into the early hours trying to finalize the final text. The meetings should have ended last Friday (17th), but only ended on Sunday (19th), to applause from those present in the auditorium in Interlaken, Switzerland.
“Why did it take so long? Because everyone knows how incredibly important this report is,” explains Kaisa Kosonen, climate expert and head of Greenpeace’s delegation to the IPCC.
“It summarizes the findings of what has arguably been the most comprehensive assessment of climate science ever and comes as the window of opportunity to meet the Paris Agreement target is rapidly closing.”
The IPCC synthesis report and summary for policy makers are a summary of the main points of the more than 10,000 pages that make up the AR6. The studies were launched between 2012 and 2022 and are divided into three working groups: physical aspects; impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and mitigating climate change.
In addition to these, the text also brings elements from three other studies, released in 2018 and 2019: on the consequences that 1.5°C of warming would have on the planet; changes in land use (such as deforestation) and food security; and the impacts that changes in climate have on oceans and glaciers.
“The AR5 put, in the models, that we would beat the 1.5ºC a little further forward. The AR6 took this in about ten years [mais cedo]. So it is more than likely that we will now reach 1.5ºC between 2030 and 2035. So they incorporate this knowledge, this understanding and point out that we really need to apply the handbrake in order to reduce emissions. “, says Bustamante.
The certainty of human responsibility for climate change
The IPCC’s understanding of humanity’s impact on the climate has evolved over more than 30 years of studies, and this is reflected in the language adopted in the six reports released to date.
“By increasing their concentrations and adding new greenhouse gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the humanity is capable to increase the annual global mean surface air temperature [do planeta]”.
“The balance of evidence suggests a noticeable human influence not global climate”.
“Most of the warming observed over the past 50 years probably [66%] was due to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases”.
“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century has very likely [90%] due to the observed increase in concentrations anthropogenic of greenhouse gases”.
“AND extremely likely [95%] what to human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century”.
“It is unequivocal what to human influence warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
The Planeta em Transe project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.
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