Climate change: a symbiosis of change and technology could save the planet

climate change

The dangers of climate change have been talked about for many years, but how to slow it down effectively has been less discussed. Now, in a new climate report, climate scientists are proposing options that should help people avoid the worst consequences of a warming climate.

Scientists from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their sixth climate report this week. In it, they call on mankind to completely change the way electricity and energy are produced, reports BBC News.

The report first announces the bad news. If governments fully implement all the pledges they have made to cut carbon emissions by the end of 2020, the world would still be 3.2°C warmer this century than in the pre-industrial era. This would be accompanied by unprecedented heatwaves, storms, and widespread water scarcity.

Scientists say that to avoid dangerous warming, the temperature rise this century will have to stay within 1.5°C at most. To achieve this, carbon emissions would need to peak within the next three years and then fall sharply. Even so, keeping temperatures low would require technology to capture carbon dioxide from the air.

In their report, the researchers give, among other things, five guidelines that are essential to keep the world safe.

Coal should be left aside

The 63 pages of the report dedicated to mitigating climate change are concise, but the main message from the scientists is clear: if the world is to avoid dangerous warming, fossil fuels must be phased out.

To keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C, the world's carbon emissions could be the highest in history by 2025, according to scientists. From then on, it is expected to fall by 43 percent by the end of the current decade.

The most efficient way for humanity to reach this target would be to generate energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. Researchers point out that since 2010, wind and solar power generation has become about 85 percent cheaper.

While the Kremlin's war in Ukraine is once again turning the eyes of European governments towards coal, the wider political community agrees that cheap and sustainable energy is the only way to achieve independence from Putin's regime. The IPCC, therefore, believes that, given both planetary temperatures and the current political situation, coal should be abandoned for good.

Jan Christoph Minx, one of the lead authors of the IPCC report and a Professor at the University of Leeds, says the scientists' message is clear: no new coal-fired power plants should be built. Otherwise, the 1.5°C target is in danger. He also says the report sends an important message that the fossil fuel era must not just end, but end very quickly.

Carbon must be captured

A few years ago, there was talk of using technology as a way to fix climate change. For example, when someone suggested spraying something into the atmosphere to cool the Earth or sending shields into space to block the sun's rays, they were laughed off rather than considered.

With the climate crisis worsening and carbon emissions struggling to be reduced, researchers have been forced to rethink how technology can be used to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon capture has now become a mainstream issue, and the latest IPCC report confirms this.

The scientists' conclusion is blunt: global temperatures can no longer be kept low enough unless some of the carbon already emitted is removed. Trees and air-filtration machines are the answer.

Environmentalists are largely opposed to carbon capture. Some of them accuse the IPCC of giving in to fossil fuel-producing countries and relying too heavily on technologies that have not yet proved their worth.

According to Linda Schneider of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a major shortcoming of the report is that it is too weak on the issue of the rapid abandonment of fossil fuels. She would have expected the report to set out the most reliable and safest way of staying within the 1.5°C limits, without bringing into play technologies that are still at the experimental stage.

Demand must fall

What distinguishes the new report from previous ones is the greater emphasis on social science issues. In particular, the report looks at how to cut people's energy needs for housing, transport, and food. This includes a wide range of issues such as a low-carbon diet, food waste, urban planning, and steering people towards more environmentally friendly modes of transport.

The IPCC believes that changes in these areas could reduce end-user pollution by 40-70 percent by 2050 while improving human well-being. While the target is broad, the report provides fairly precise and detailed guidance on how to achieve it. Governments, among others, should take the lead and push societies to act.

Investment in targeted cooling

Curbing climate change has so far often been bogged down by the hefty price tag of change, but the rising cost of weather disasters in recent years is shifting the balance in the other direction. IPCC scientists compared the costs of different possible futures and found that changing the world won't be as expensive as thought.

At the moment, the IPCC says, too much money is still being spent on fossil fuels and too little on clean energy solutions. In the long run, IPCC models that take into account the economic damage of climate change show that limiting warming to 2°C this century would save the world more money than the economic growth that would be generated by additional warming. Limiting warming more firmly to below an additional 2°C will cost a little more. However, the cost is not that high when the avoided damages and the various benefits, such as cleaner air and water, are taken into account.

According to Michael Grubb, one of the lead authors of the study and a professor at University College London, even the cost of cutting carbon emissions at the steepest rate would be no more than 0.1 percent of expected annual economic growth.

The rich should lead by example

The report also underlines the huge impact rich people have on the planet. According to the IPCC, households in the top ten in terms of percentage emissions per capita emit up to 45 percent of greenhouse gases from households.

The report says that the world's richest people spend too much money on transport, including private jets. While at first glance higher taxes on the rich may seem like an appropriate measure, some IPCC authors point out that the rich can contribute to cooling the planet in other ways.

According to Patrick Devine-Wright, lead author of the report and professor at the University of Exeter, wealthy people emit disproportionately high levels of greenhouse gases, but they have the potential to reduce emissions by maintaining a good standard of living. He says there are certainly influential people who can reduce their carbon footprint and become trailblazers for green lifestyles.

Such people would set an example by investing in low-carbon companies and lobbying hard for tougher climate policies.

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