The column appeared previously in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
If earlier reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were wake-up calls to take climate action, the one released in early April is a blaring emergency horn that the world dare not ignore. In a statement accompanying the report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the failure of governments and corporations to keep pledges and take effective climate action has “put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world.”
Global Emissions Must Fall 43% in Eight Years
The report indicates that in order to keep global warming within the 1.5°C target, greenhouse gas emissions can continue to rise for only 3 more years. They must fall 43% by 2030. The scientists report that this is still possible, but that unless transformative climate action is taken in the next eight years, the 1.5°C target will be out of reach forever. Unless countries step up their reductions in emissions, we are on course for a global temperature rise of 2.4°C to 3.5°C. This would bring unimaginable devastation to populations everywhere.
I have not plowed through the entire 3,675 pages of this latest report, but in the summaries and articles about it there are items of good news. The first is that if the right actions are taken, it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The second is that the cost of solar energy and lithium-ion batteries has fallen 85 percent since 2010. The third is that the cost of taking the needed actions is actually less than the costs humanity will incur if we don’t take them! Fourth, the reduction in air pollution that will be achieved by ending our burning of fossil fuels, will avert 2.4 million premature deaths every year according to the IPCC.
Sweeping Societal Transformation
The report’s authors say that what is needed “cannot be achieved through incremental change.” As the Washington Post put it, “With the world on track to blaze past its climate goals, only immediate, sweeping societal transformation can stave off catastrophic warming.”
One of the most prominent of these “dangerous radicals,” of course, is the United States. We produce more oil and more gas than any other nation. Our corporations are still building new fossil fuel infrastructure–including new LNG export terminals and new pipelines in many parts of the country.
In the what-can-we-do-about-it category, the report has a lot to say. I’ll highlight just a few points.
- No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure- “For the first time in its 34 year history, the IPCC declared that no new fossil fuel infrastructure must be built. That means no new gas pipelines, no new oil drilling or refineries, no new coal mines or power plants—no new production facilities for the fossil fuels that still supply nearly 80 percent of the world’s energy consumption,” (according to Covering Climate Now). In many places it is possible for those of us who care about climate change to get involved in campaigns to stop proposed pipelines and other infrastructure projects.
- Organize- Secretary-General Guterres said, “We owe a debt to young people, civil society and indigenous communities for sounding the alarm and holding leaders accountable. We need to build on their work to create a grass‑roots movement that cannot be ignored.” I recommend that everyone find ways to be involved in building that grassroots movement. In “The Only Path to Climate Success” I identify 7 concrete actions you can take to help strengthen the movement, and provide links to even more.
- Solar And Wind Energy, Forestation, And Agriculture- In one beautiful chart the IPCC report shows many options for reducing net emissions by 2030. Increasing solar and wind power leads the list, but preventing deforestation and achieving reforestation, and carbon sequestration in agriculture are right behind in their power to make a difference.
- Behavior And Lifestyle Changes- Individual personal choices will never be sufficient to bring about the needed changes, but reducing air travel, shifting to plant-based diets, reducing food waste and overconsumption, turning down the heat, insulating houses, and electrifying vehicles can, as summarized in Chapter 5 of the latest report, make a very significant contribution to the overall effort.
I’ll end this post by expressing my deep gratitude for the thousands of contributing scientists, for Secretary-General Guterres and his leadership, and for the young people, indigenous people, and other activists who are inviting us all to join in being part of the solution to our shared climate crisis.
Russ Vernon-Jones was principal of Fort River School 1990-2008 and is currently a member of the Amherst Community Safety Working Group and of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now-Western Massachusetts. He blogs regularly on climate justice at www.russvernonjones.org.