We have 12 years to avoid climate catastrophe, UN warns.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published on Monday 8th October.
For the first time ever, they have warned governments and the public that 2.0C of warming will be catastrophic for the planet. They have urged people to make unprecedented changes to their lifestyles in order to limit warming to 1.5C The changes from just 0.5C warming would condemn hundreds of millions of people to a life of droughts, extreme heat, floods and poverty.
At 2.0C of warming, extremely hot days would become more severe and common causing deaths and more wildfires. Sea level rise will effect 10 million more at the higher temperature. Likewise, 50% more people will be exposed to water stress.
“It’s a line in the sand, and what it says to our species is that this is the moment, and we must act now” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of the working group on impacts.
The worst impacts will be reserved for nature. Insects, vital for crop pollination, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at 2.0C, compared with 1.5C. At 2.0C, 99% of the world’s coral reefs will be lost, but at the lower temperature, 10% can be saved.
At current rates, by 2040, the world will have warmed by 2.7c. It’s essential that drastic action is taken immediately, if we are to have any chance of remaining within 1.5C of warming. Failure to take action now and humanity will be taking a huge gamble with unproven geoengineering techniques that could have very serious negative impacts.
The report highlighted 4 different possible paths to remain within 1.5C warming. Each of the 4 paths require an urgent halt to deforestation, and reforestation is essential. Forests usually act as giant carbon sinks, but as they are felled, they emit large amounts of carbon.
“Our planet’s future climate is inextricably tied to the future of the forests.”
Presently, our forests absorb about 1/4 of the carbon from human activity. Losing the forests would release more than 3 trillion tons of carbon dioxide. This is more than would be emitted by all the known oil and gas reserves.
The IPCC scientists have stated that world leaders have a moral obligation to become carbon neutral by 2050, and not 2075, as with the 2.0C figure. Emissions will need to be cut by 45% by 2030. However governments alone cannot achieve this target. Mary Robinson, a UN special envoy on climate said:
“It’s really important that governments take the responsibility, but we must all do what we can”.
Unfortunately, in addition to America’s Trump regime, Brazilian presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro, is promising to withdraw from the Paris agreement and open the Amazon to agribusiness. The majority of Amazon deforestation to date has been to satiate our global appetite for meat. As diets rich in meat use between 3-18 times more land than plant based diets, it is essential that we start to cut meat and dairy consumption if we are to remain within 1.5C of warming.
What can people do?
Transportation: We should all travel less, especially air travel should be limited. Public transportation should be used more and car sharing should be encouraged, as should electric cars.
Buildings: Air conditioners and heaters should be used less and turned off when not necessary.
Diets: To meet the 1.5C target, meat consumption has to drop by 30% globally. Those in rich countries will have to cut out the most.
What is clear is that we have wasted too much time and our governments have been too slow to act. To ensure our children and grandchildren have a future free from droughts, extreme heat, floods and starvation, we must all act now, before it’s too late.