The global economy will have to undergo a green industrial revolution that is “unprecedented” in its scale and scope in the space of just three decades if temperature increases are to be limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
That is the stark warning from the long-awaited report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the prospects of meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping temperature increases below 1.5C, which was officially launched this morning.
The report – known as the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C – calculates that a 1.5C warming trajectory would require the global economy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 45 per cent between 2010 and 2030, before then delivering a net zero emissions economy by 2050.
Meeting the Paris Agreement’s upper target of limiting temperature increases to 2C above pre-industrial levels would require emissions to fall around 20 per cent by 2030, before achieving net zero emission status by around 2075.
The world has already experienced around 1C of warming above pre-industrial levels. Based on the emissions reductions pledges made under the Paris Agreement the world is currently on track for around 3C of warming by 2100, assuming countries deliver on their promised national climate action plans and then continue to deliver significant emissions reductions beyond 2030 when most current plans expire.
It warns that based on current emissions projections there is a high degree of confidence that “global warming is likely to reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate”.
As such the IPCC stresses meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement remains a daunting task. “Limiting warming to 1.5C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.
The report, draws on 133 contributing authors and thousands of scientific papers, looked at a range of pathways for limiting warming to 1.5C with limited or no “overshoot” where temperature increases 1.5C but are then brought back under control by untested negative emissions technologies.
It found that all scenarios “would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems”.
The report points to two main causes for optimism, highlighting how industry-wide technological transformations have been completed in a couple of decades in the past and how clean technologies are enjoying plummeting costs and can deliver a raft of wider sustainable development benefits.
“The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5C are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I.
However, the IPCC is also blunt about the scale of the challenge required to bring currently rising emissions trajectories into line with a 1.5C scenario, noting that “there is no documented historic precedent” for the scale of transformation that is required.
It cites models for a 1.5C pathway where by 2050 renewables account for 70-85 per cent of global power supplies, coal’s share of the power mix is reduced to “close to zero”, carbon emissions from industry fall by 75-90 per cent, and investment in mitigating energy sector emissions hits an annual average of around $900bn for every year from 2015 to 2050.
Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, stressed that “every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems”. Limiting global warming would also give people and ecosystems more room to adapt and remain below relevant risk thresholds, he added.
Some scientists have also long argued that keeping temperatures as low as possible is critical for reducing the risk of trigger points being passed, where natural systems such as forests or permafrost start to release greenhouse gas emissions leading to runaway warming.
Mike Barry, director of sustainable business, Plan A, at Marks & Spencer, said the report provided a stark reminder that businesses needed to undergo fundamental transformations over the next few decades. “The IPCC continues to provide the sound science we need to make profound decisions about how we run the economy globally,” he said. “It’s a powerful reminder that business as usual is unsustainable and even climate action 1.0, as inspired by COP21, is insufficient. We need to take bolder, faster action and shift our mind-set to one of embracing the inevitability and opportunity of the low carbon economy.”
Investment groups stressed there was a growing band of institutional investors keen to mobilise capital in low carbon infrastructure and business models. Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC). “We also know that bold action to address climate change offers $26tr in economic benefit across the global economy through to 2030. Now isn’t the time to be fazed by the scale of the far-reaching change required, but instead to focus on the benefits this will deliver in safeguarding global prosperity.”
Her comments were echoed by Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer at Aviva Investors. “The Economist Intelligence Unit estimated that, left unabated, climate change will cost the global economy $43tn in today’s prices,” he said. “This is not a risk we can afford to take. Keeping global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees will help safeguard our investment portfolios and protect our customers savings. The long term negative financial consequences of climate change are far, far greater than the short term financial risks of transitioning to the Paris Agreement.”
Campaigners and business leaders united today in calling on the UK government and others to now set net zero emission targets as soon as possible.
“Leaders have a clear choice: will they decide to accelerate climate action and protect all their citizens from harm, or will they support the minority with interests in the old polluting economy. The first test to see what side politicians are on will be if rich countries commit to making their economies net zero emission before 2050.”