Bad News: UN Climate Report shows window is closing for “sustainable, livable future for all” 

A helicopter drops water on a California wildfire. Credit: Business Green

By Alliance President Terry Gips and Alliance Intern Isabella Deza from George Mason University

The just-out report from the world’s top scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was approved by governments this weekend and warns that the too-slow embrace of proven low carbon technologies and business models over the past decade means steeper emissions cuts will be required than previously anticipated to avert a future dominated by potentially catastrophic heatwaves, droughts, floods, and tropical cyclones, according to Business Green.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the report as a “survival guide for humanity”. He said, “It shows, the 1.5C-degree [2.7F] limit is achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action. This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.” Sadly, this is in stark contrast to the Biden Administration’s recent approval of the Willow Project.

The Willow Project

The Willow Project is an enormous $8 billion oil drilling operation in a sensitive region of Alaska’s Arctic. “The project could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day, according to the company — about 1.5% of total US oil production,” according to CBS News. If the project is successful, it’s projected to be the largest oil and gas project on US lands.

The Biden Administration’s approval of the Willow Project is a controversial decision that has angered environmentalists and Indigenous people, as it’s a broken promise to the American people. Environmentalists feel betrayed by the President because he had promised to end new oil and gas drilling on federal lands during the 2020 campaign.

Projects like this contribute to our addiction to fossil fuels and lock us into fossil fuel dependency for decades, making it nearly impossible to meet the nation’s greenhouse gas reduction commitment. It’s a controversial project because “using the oil from Willow would produce the equivalent of more 263 million tons of greenhouse gases over the project’s 30-year life, roughly equal to the combined emissions from 1.7 million passenger cars over the same time period,” according to CBS News.

Mainstreaming Climate Action

This is in stark contrast to the IPPC Report calling for the “mainstreaming” of climate action across society and warning the window for securing a livable, sustainable future is rapidly closing despite there being “multiple, feasible, and effective” solutions available to stave off dangerous levels of global warming.

The report warns that global temperatures have risen to 1.1C above pre-industrial levels after more than a century of burning fossil fuels and current policies are expected to lead to global warming of 2.8C by 2100. The world is on track to massively overshoot both the 1.5C warming goal and the ‘well below’ 2C limit governments agreed to under the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which ecosystems will be subjected to irreversible damage and humans will face unprecedented temperatures.

Just as in previous IPCC reports, the scientists warned all sectors of the economy must undergo “rapid and far-reaching transitions” that involve deep reductions in carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions will need to be cut by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 if they are to be kept under the critical 1.5C limit. Tragically, global emissions rose again last year and are not expected to peak until 2025 at the earliest.

Dangerous Climate Impacts

The Report emphasizes the need to prepare societies around the world for increasingly dangerous climate impacts that are now unavoidable. More frequent and intense weather events are already evident today in every region and will escalate with every increment of warming, hitting vulnerable communities and ecosystems hardest.

Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a livable sustainable future for all.”

On the positive front, the Report underscores that these solutions are available and in many cases are rapidly decreasing in cost, while providing multiple benefits to society, including improved public health, enhanced human wellbeing, and new employment opportunities.

Renewable Lifelines

Greenpeace head of politics Rebecca Newsom Greenpeace UK said: “Rather than throwing lifelines to dodgy nuclear and unproven carbon capture schemes, the government should grasp the renewable energy system that will bring cleaner air, green jobs and cheaper and more secure supply.”

She added, “But that also means closing the stopcock before our house floods. Fossil fuel companies have access to infrastructure and reserves that will force global warming beyond dangerous limits. We absolutely cannot risk more exploration and drilling. Fossil fuel companies must stop drilling and start paying tax on their bumper profits so we can ramp up renewables and support the most affected people worldwide.”

We couldn’t agree more. We’re fed up and can’t take it anymore. It’s time for all hands on deck with no more excuses. We need to listen to scientists and protect ourselves, vulnerable people, ecosystems and future generations. We can do this if we each do our part and join together.

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