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United Nations report calls for urgent action to avert catastrophic climate change

09 October 2018

A new United Nations report warns of the unprecedented changes needed by society to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 Celcius above pre-industrial levels.

"Limiting warming to 1.5°C 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.

Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) which represents investors with trillions of pounds of assets under management, said the report showed limiting global warming to 1.5C is what was needed. Emissions per capita in Australia are at their lowest level in a decade'.

At 1.5 degrees, the report finds that 70 to 90 percent of tropical coral reefs will vanish.

"Examples of actions include shifting to low- or zero-emission power generation, such as renewables; changing food systems, such as diet changes away from land-intensive animal products; electrifying transport and developing "green infrastructure", such as building green roofs, or improving energy efficiency by smart urban planning, which will change the layout of many cities", the report said. The world, which is already 1.0°C warmer compared to pre-industrial levels, is facing the climate wraths in some form or the other. The not-so-great news? They need to accelerate.

"While the pace of change that would be required to limit warming to [2.7º F] can be found in the past, there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions, in particular in a socially and economically sustainable way", the report stated.

At current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, we could pass the 1.5C marker as early as 2030, and no later than mid-century, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change reported with "high confidence".

To have even a 50-50 chance of staying under 1.5C, the world has to be carbon neutral by 2050, with emissions of carbon dioxide falling sharply from 2020.

The report was prepared at the request of governments when the global pact to tackle climate change was agreed in Paris almost three years ago. "There is no time to waste", he said.

Given that current national commitments on greenhouse-gas emissionsfall well short of the goals laid out in the Paris climate agreement, many scientists have argued that meeting even the 2 °C goal is virtually impossible.

Should governments fail to do that within a decade, and temperatures rise more than 1.5 degrees C, there's one more Hail Mary option. The report also examines pathways available to limit warming to 1.5 °C, what it would take to achieve them and what the consequences could be.

Therefore, even though urgent action is a necessity, it should be equitable and the onus of addressing climate change can not fall on the developing world. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.

"This is a pivotal part of turning back the climate change siege", he said. "We also need more effective harmonised regulatory processes to facilitate significant growth in nuclear capacity and an effective safety paradigm where the health, environmental and safety benefits of nuclear are better understood and valued by society".

"Either we help United Kingdom efforts for meeting the 1.5 degree target, or we sabotage them".

So the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was tasked with providing the answers.

The path to a climate-safe world has become a tightrope, and will require an unprecedented marshalling of human ingenuity, the authors said.

Currently, a few experimental methods exist that can snatch carbon dioxide directly out of the air, but at up to $1,000 per ton of carbon dioxide, the price tag of such carbon capture is staggering-and billions of tons await extraction.

"It will take government resolve", he said. By 2050, they will need to reach "net zero" - any further CO₂ emissions due to human activity would then have to be matched by deliberate removal of CO₂ already in the atmosphere, including by planting trees.

United Nations report calls for urgent action to avert catastrophic climate change