Governments must act urgently on climate change

Posted: 4 May 2007

Between 1970 and 2004, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions grew by 70 per cent, according to the latest UN report on climate change. But it says that climate change can be controlled by curbing GHG emissions, and that this can be done at reasonable cost.

Limiting global warming to a 2 degrees centigrade rise by boosting renewable energy, reducing deforestation and improving energy efficiency would cost 0.12 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a summary of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on 4 May.

IPCC Chairman Dr R K Pachauri
IPCC Chairman Dr R K Pachauri
IPCC Chairman Dr R K Pachauri. Photo courtesy US Climate Change Science Program
Launching the report, 'Mitigation of Climate Change', at a meeting in Bangkok, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri called the report "stunning in its brilliance and razor-sharp in its relevance". It contains a "powerful message" concerning the changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns necessary to reduce emissions.

"Human society as a whole has to look for changes in consumption patterns," he said. He said his personal suggestions included turning down the thermostat and eating less red meat, which could reduce animal methane emissions. "These are lifestyle measures but you are not going to give up anything and you might gain," he told reporters.

The report suggests that if major climate impacts are to be avoided, global emissions should peak and begin declining within one or two decades.

It assesses the likely costs to the global economy of stabilising GHG at various concentrations in the atmosphere.

Stabilisation at reasonable cost is possible, it concludes, commenting: "There is considerable economic potential for the mitigation of global greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades, that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels."

The report clearly shows that it is possible to stop global warming if the world's emissions start to decline before 2015. To keep our climate safe, 50 to 85 per cent of CO2 emissions will have to be cut by the middle of this century, according to the report's summary for policy makers.

"The IPCC has delivered a road map for keeping the planet safe, now it's the turn of politicians to do more than pay just lip service," says Hans Verolme, Director of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)'s Climate Change Programme. "We can stop climate change before it is too late."

Oil refinery
Oil refinery
Oil refinery in Teesport, England, emits greenhouse gases during the refining process and more emissions enter the atmosphere when the petroleum products are burned for power.Ian Britton/FreeFoto
The IPCC report demonstrates that we can easily afford to stop climate change. Global warming can be contained at a cost of just 0.1 per cent of the world's Gross Domestic Product per year. In contrast, doing nothing costs up to 20 times more according to the most recent science - and human suffering would be greater than purely monetary indicators show, says WWF.

"It's all there already, existing clean technologies only need to be elevated from niche to mainstream," says Dr Stephan Singer, head of WWF's European Climate and Energy Programme.

"Too much time has been wasted already. This report shows nothing needs to hold us back from taking the simple steps to safeguard the world's economy and environment from climate chaos."

The IPCC has shown clearly that to avoid catastrophic climate change we can keep global warming below a 2°C rise of global average annual temperature. The first IPCC working group showed that the world is already committed to an increase of at least 1.3°C.

Technological advances - particularly in producing and using energy more efficiently - mean that such targets were within reach, the report said. It highlighted the use of nuclear, solar and wind power, more energy-efficient buildings and lighting, as well as capturing and storing carbon dioxide emitted by coal-fired power stations and oil and gas rigs.