The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released Sunday in Berlin, shows that humanity still has time to solve the global crisis of global warming and climate change, but only if governments and industry are finally forced to make the political and financial decisions that will see the rapid reduction of CO2 emissions while launching a planetary push for renewable energy sources.
Environmentalists responded to the report by saying that its findings simply go to show that far from showing a ‘green energy revolution’ is expensive or prohibitive, the opposite is true.
“Dirty energy industries are sure to put up a fight but it’s only a question of time before public pressure and economics dictate that they either change or go out of business. The 21st century will be the ‘age of renewables’.” —Kaisa Kosone, Greenpeace
“Clean energy is not costly, but inaction is,” said Greenpeace campaigners Daniel Mittler and Kaisa Kosonen from Berlin. “Costly in terms of lives, livelihoods and economies if governments and business continue to allow climate change impacts to escalate.”
According to the Working Group III contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, it remains possible, “using a wide array of technological measures and changes in behaviour,” to limit the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as world governments have agreed is the target for this century. However, says the report, only “major institutional and technological changes” will do and they must be done immediately without the delays and obstructions that have so far blocked meaningful action.
The key message of the report is that the burning of fossil fuels must be rapidly curbed and phased out, while the investments in renewable, low- or zero-carbon sources of energy must be scaled up dramatically. And, as Mittler and Kosonen summarize, the economic, ecological, and societal realities prove that “climate action is an opportunity, not a burden.”
“The longer we wait, the costlier it will be,” said Charles Kolstad, an environmental economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the report’s lead author.
“Climate policies in line with the two degrees Celsius goal need to aim for substantial emission reductions,”said Ottmar Edenhofer, one of the co-chairs of the report. “There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.”
The report, entitled Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, is the third of three Working Group reports, which, along with a Synthesis Report due in October 2014, constitute the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on climate change.
“The solutions to make the shift from fossil fuels to renewables are clear,” says Hoda Baraka, global communications manager for the climate action group 350.org. “We need to stop pumping money into a rogue industry that is determined to maximize its profits at any cost. Divestment is the means to shift investments away from coal, oil and gas companies and into a more equitable and sustainable energy economy.”
As Greenpeace’s Kosonen said in a statement: “Renewable energy is unstoppable. It’s becoming bigger, better and cheaper every day. Dirty energy industries are sure to put up a fight but it’s only a question of time before public pressure and economics dictate that they either change or go out of business. The 21st century will be the ‘age of renewables’.”
Reporting on the IPCC’s findings, the Guardian‘s Damian Carrington notes that solving the crisis is ‘eminently affordable’ compared to the disaster of doing nothing. Focusing on the various mitigation options included in the report, he writes:
Along with measures that cut energy waste, renewable energy – such as wind, hydropower and solar – is viewed most favourably by the report as a result of its falling costs and large-scale deployment in recent years.
The report includes nuclear power as a mature low-carbon option, but cautions that it has declined globally since 1993 and faces safety, financial and waste-management concerns. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) – trapping the CO2 from coal or gas burning and then burying it – is also included, but the report notes it is an untested technology on a large scale and may be expensive.
Biofuels, used in cars or power stations, could play a “critical role” in cutting emissions, the IPCC found, but it said the negative effects of some biofuels on food prices and wildlife remained unresolved.
The report found that current emission-cutting pledges by the world’s nations make it more likely than not that the 2C limit will be broken and it warns that delaying action any further will increase the costs.
Friends of the Earth energy program director Ben Schreiber said the IPCC has done its job and now it is time for governments to finally stand up and do theirs.
“Time is running out,” said Schreiber, “but we can still alter our current trajectory before it leads to climate disaster. Unfortunately, even as the world’s leading scientists are laying out the need for urgent action, the political leaders at the negotiating table remain unwilling to commit to the steps necessary.”
Schreiber pointed the finger at the United States, the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gasses, and said the “all of the above” energy policy of President Obama is incompatible with “the overwhelming evidence that we must leave fossil fuels in the ground.” Coal and natural gas, he said, have no place in our climate constrained world and the White House and other leading developed nations must finally face their special responsibility to lead, not obstruct, the path towards a new energy paradigm.
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