The climate crisis has reached a “really bleak moment”, one of the world’s leading climate scientists has said, after a slew of major reports laid bare how close the planet is to catastrophe.
Collective action is needed by the world’s nations more now than at any point since the second world war to avoid climate tipping points, Prof Johan Rockström said, but geopolitical tensions are at a high.
He said the world was coming “very, very close to irreversible changes … time is really running out very, very fast”.
Emissions must fall by about half by 2030 to meet the internationally agreed target of 1.5C of heating but are still rising, the reports showed – at a time when oil giants are making astronomical amounts of money.
On Thursday, Shell and TotalEnergies both doubled their quarterly profits to about $10bn. Oil and gas giants have enjoyed soaring profits as post-Covid demand jumps and after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The sector is expected to amass $4tn in 2022, strengthening calls for heavy windfall taxes to address the cost of living crisis and fund the clean energy transition.
All three of the key UN agencies have produced damning reports in the last two days. The UN environment agency’s report found there was “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and that “woefully inadequate” progress on cutting carbon emissions means the only way to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a “rapid transformation of societies”.
Current pledges for action by 2030, even if delivered in full, would mean a rise in global heating of about 2.5C, a level that would condemn the world to catastrophic climate breakdown, according to the UN’s climate agency. Only a handful of countries have ramped up their plans in the last year, despite having promised to do so at the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow last November.
The UN’s meteorological agency reported that all the main heating gases hit record highs in 2021, with an alarming surge in emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Separately, the IEA’s world energy report offered a glimmer of progress, that CO2 from fossil fuels could peak by 2025 as high energy prices push nations towards clean energy, though it warned that it would not be enough to avoid severe climate impacts.
Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “It’s a really bleak moment, not only because of the reports showing that emissions are still rising, so we’re not delivering on either the Paris or Glasgow climate agreements, but we also have so much scientific evidence that we are very, very close to irreversible changes – we’re coming closer to tipping points.”
Research by Rockström and colleagues, published in September, found five dangerous climate tipping points may already have been passed due to the global heating caused by humanity to date, including the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, with another five possible with 1.5C of heating.
“Furthermore, the world is unfortunately in a geopolitically unstable state,” said Rockström. “So when we need collective action at the global level, probably more than ever since the second world war, to keep the planet stable, we have an all-time low in terms of our ability to collectively act together.”
“Time is really running out very, very fast,” he said. “I must say, in my professional life as a climate scientist, this is a low point. The window for 1.5C is shutting as I speak, so it’s really tough.”
(The Guardian – 27-10-2020)