The latest IPCC climate report says global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 and to halve emissions by the end of the decade to limit global warming to 1.5C. We have all the tools we need today to change and we need be more aggressive in hunting down excess emissions. Carbon capture technology will be required after 2050 to achieve net-zero emissions. 

The world can still hope in staving off the worst effects of a climate disaster if we make “rapid, deep and immediate” cuts in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of society, and make the crucial transition towards a low-carbon economy now, according to the third and final report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sixth assessment.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7°F),” warns Jim Skea, a professor at Imperial College London and co-chair of the working group behind the report. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

The report by the world’s top climate scientists say that we are far from limiting global temperature rise below 2C, let alone 1.5C, a target that was set in 2015 in the Paris Agreement and was consolidated again at the recent COP26 UN climate summit. In fact, even if all the current climate pledges and action policies had been successfully implemented by the end of 2020, the world will still warm by 3.2C this century.

But we still have a chance in changing the current course towards climate disaster. After a contentious approval session where scientists and government officials went through the report line by line, the IPCC has provided clear guidelines on how the world can avoid an extremely dangerous future.

IPCC Report Summary

In order to limit global warming to 1.5C, we must rapidly and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emission in every single sector. This includes everything that we do, buy, use or eat. We also need to reduce methane emissions – a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – by a third by 2025. But even if we successfully do this, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed the 1.5C threshold, though we could return to below it by the end of the century.

Despite net-zero emission pledges across cities, countries and companies, emissions have continued to drain the “carbon budget,” an accounting tool scientists use to estimate how much time is left before temperature limits are likely to be breached. Common slogans such as “net-zero by 2050” offer too broad a timeline; targets should all aim for 2025 instead. 

We can achieve a 40-70% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050 by having the “right policies, infrastructure and technology”. So far, the report found more than a dozen countries have already experienced shrinking emissions rates for more than a decade. But there are cost-effective methods of cutting carbon that could help meet half the 2030 emissions target. With falling solar and wind prices, renewables are cheaper to generate electricity than fossil fuel in many countries while AI and robotics are making energy usage and generation more efficient. ​​​​​​Reusing and recycling products as well as minimising waste are key across all sectors, especially construction chemicals and materials such as steel. 

Though carbon capture and storage technologies are still currently in their infancy, many critics say they distract efforts and resources from tackling emission reduction directly. But the IPCC climate report claims that carbon capture is unavoidable to reach 1.5C and will be a crucial tool in the second half of the century to achieve and maintain net-zero emissions. There are many natural tools to achieve negative emissions, such as reforestation (and stopping and reversing deforestation) of tropical forests and mangroves, but direct air capture, including the Orca facility in Iceland, are slowly gaining traction – tech billionaire Elon Musk is also funding a $100 million X-Prize to encourage development of carbon capture technologies.

What’s Next? 

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.  There’s clearly no room for any new fossil fuel developments, and the coal and gas plants we already have need to close much earlier than planned. Governments must seek to implement more aggressive policies, regulations and market instruments for the 2025 global carbon peak to be feasible. Carbon bounty is needed – we need to hunt down and eliminate excess carbon emissions. Otherwise if left unchecked, we are creating our own destruction. 

As carbon capture and extraction is clearly crucial, the only way to successfully stimulate the market is by setting a price to carbon. Carbon pricing is the only effective mechanism to achieve climate stabilisation, encourage deep emissions reductions, and stimulate technology innovation.

Featured image by: EO Photographer Justin Sullivan