Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

16 Apr 2022

Approaching overshoot

Posted by Michael Keating

Each statement from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] ratchets up the pressure to fight climate change. The planet has already warmed by more than 1 Celsius since the start of the industrial revolution because of massive burning of fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas. Under the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change the world agreed we need to hold the temperature increase to well below 2C with a goal of 1.5C to prevent even more severe damage from wildfires, floods, droughts and huge storms that already are hitting us hard.

An early April report by 278 climate experts from 65 countries said we have to make historically fast and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions or we will overshoot the targets. The report, Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change, said that to meet the 1.5C target, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 and be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. We’re nowhere near on track. With current policies, the world will warm by more than 3 degrees. Even if nations meet their promises for future cuts, we will get just under 3 degrees of warming. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres did not sound optimistic as he accused the governments of high-emitting countries, of making “empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world.”

Two days after the IPCC report came out, Canada approved the Bay du nord oil project in the Atlantic Ocean off the country’s east coast. It is to produce some 300 million barrels of oil which when burned would release about 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or twice as much as Canada’s electricity sector releases in a year. The deep-sea oil project is to start pumping oil in 2028. The Canadian climate plan aims for emissions to be cut by 40-45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The IPCC scientists said we need deep and immediate emissions reductions across all sectors. “We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. However, the report’s authors write, it “cannot be achieved through incremental change.”

More than 80 per cent of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels, a power system developed over several centuries. A titanic shift must take place. We must electrify almost everything to literally repower the world. It will cost trillions of dollars but is necessary to save the planet from climate disaster.

Electric cars recharging

It’s not just electric cars. We have to change the heating systems for almost every building in the world and the power for most industrial processes. There are signs of hope. A number of countries have cut emissions over the past decade, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and Ukraine. They used less energy, transitioned away from fossil fuels to renewables, and increased the energy efficiency of their products.

The need for dramatic change is running up against a fight from huge fossil fuel industries trying to stay in business, people reluctant or uncertain how to make the necessary changes and many politicians afraid to provide the historic leadership needed. Given current trends it is virtually certain we will overshoot the 1.5C goal. The question is can we correct by rapidly reducing emissions later and how much damage will we suffer in the interim.

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