In 1988, the United Nations established the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to assess and provide updates on climate change, its impact, and recommendations for addressing it. On Monday, the IPCC finished and released its Sixth Assessment Report. The body generally views keeping the planet from warming over 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as a target, warning that any temperature rise beyond that would cause more frequent and severe extreme weather events. The organization’s reports offer policy-relevant scientific analysis, which it hopes can inform policymakers on how to move forward.
According to the report, global greenhouse gas emissions rose over the last decade, despite pledges to lower them. However, their growth rate has slowed some compared to the previous decade. Emissions increased across all industries, including the energy sector, where the growing use of renewables and more efficient power has failed to counteract population growth and industrial activity.
The authors warn that only immediate, significant climate action can keep the world below the 1.5 degrees threshold. According to their analysis, it requires global emissions to peak by 2025 and shrink dramatically after that. Forecasts show that current emissions trends would put Earth on the path to warming by 3.2 degrees. The report says that the only way to keep the planet below the 1.5 degrees target is to halve global emissions by the 2030s and reach net-zero emissions by the 2050s. This plan translates to 45% less gas, 60% less oil, and 95% less coal by 2050.
While the IPCC views 1.5 degrees as the ideal goal, it also considers the impact of a 2 degrees Celsius warming beyond pre-industrial levels — which many scientists regard as a less-desirable limit to prevent catastrophic effects. Both would require lifestyle shifts, from reducing the use of cars to favoring plant-based diets over meat. Its analysis also estimates that the policy change needed to hit the 2 degrees target would restrict global economic growth by up to 2.7% by 2050. However, the report’s authors say that limiting global warming would provide an overall economic benefit exceeding short-term costs.
While some of its findings are grim, the report also highlights progress toward global climate goals. The lowering costs of more climate-friendly fossil fuel alternatives could lessen the financial burden of switching to renewable energy. Compared to 2010, both solar and wind power are significantly cheaper, and lithium-ion batteries — essential to the production of electric cars — have also fallen in price. This trend has led many countries to expand the use of renewable energy and electric vehicles.
Finally, the IPCC concludes that governments face several hurdles to enacting more robust climate policies — mainly political and financial ones. Policy shifts like ending fossil fuel subsidies or imposing carbon taxes — actions that the report suggests would direct investment toward renewable energy — face stiff opposition from political interest and lobbying groups. On other issues, like switching to nuclear power, leaders could face blowback from their constituents wary of such efforts. Also, the report argues that the global financial commitment needed to develop technology like carbon removal, which will be critical to meeting the 1.5 degrees goal, is far below necessary levels.
Climate change has played an increasing role in politics globally, and the United States is no exception. On Monday, the White House announced that the worsening impacts of climate change could cost $2 trillion each year by the end of the century. However, the administration’s proposed 2023 budget called for $45 billion in environmental initiatives, far short of the $555 billion in climate spending included in the President’s now-defeated Build Back Better plan.
Climate activists say that is not enough. They suggest the IPCC’s findings highlight the need for drastic and widespread changes. Last August, congressional Democrats seized on an earlier portion of the IPCC report to push for a massive shift in American climate policy, something they will likely do again. Republican lawmakers have focused on climate-offending nations like China and Russia. Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), who serves on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, stated: “If we have learned anything from events over the last few months, it is that some countries — such as Russia, China, and others — have no respect for other countries, the environment, or human rights.”
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