In order to avoid the worst impacts of human-caused climate change, a panel of UN climate experts has recommended phasing out the use of unregulated fossil fuels by 2100.
On Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Synthesis Report, which combines the findings of previous peer-reviewed studies with the current expertise of thousands of the world’s leading scientists.
As Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, told Planet Experts, this report concludes with 95 percent certainty that humans are the main cause of global warming and that the resulting change in climate is already having a severe impact on ecosystems, human health, food, water and national security. Most importantly, said Dr. Mann, it states that these negative impacts are still “relatively inexpensive to deal with – through cutting carbon emissions and implementing adaptation protocols – if we act now.”
To not act now, the report’s authors write, increases “the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.”
Critics of climate action say that transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energies will be cost-prohibitive, but the Synthesis Report accounts for this economic factor, showing that the cost of inaction will severely damage countries’ infrastructures. “There is a myth that climate action will cost heavily,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “but inaction will cost much more.”
“Science has spoken,” he said. “There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”
The warmest 30-year period in the last 1,400 years occurred between 1983 and 2012, according to the report. In order to keep the average global temperature from rising another two degrees Celsius (the target threshold set by the UN in 2009), the use of fossil fuels must be brought under control, with any fossil fuel power generation that operates without carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology being “phased out almost entirely by 2100.”
Without concerted fossil fuel regulation from the international community, the global temperature could rise above five degrees Celsius by the century’s end, which would incur severe financial and physical damage. Even if nations commit to phasing out fossil fuels, some climate impacts will “continue for centuries” due to the massive amount of carbon already in Earth’s atmosphere.
Some countries have already made strong commitments to eliminating their carbon footprint. Denmark, for instance, is moving towards eliminating coal from its energy portfolio. Between 1990 and 2012, the country cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, and it currently generates 43 percent of its power from wind and solar energies. Denmark hopes to phase out all coal-fired energy generation by 2030 and be completely renewable-based by 2035.
As Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen told Reuters, “You soon come to the green agenda because families want to have a green city.”