IPCC report sets zero emissions target for world by 2100 to contain climate change

Synthesis report cites mass die-offs of forests, the melting of land ice, rapid rise in sea levels and crop destruction to give ‘clear’ and ‘unequivocal’ warning

By Aditi Sawant
Published: Monday 03 November 2014

Even at just 1°C of warming there are negative impacts for major crops like wheat, rice and corn; for India and China, the prediction is that stress on staple wheat crop would increase

The latest report of the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that global warming is “unequivocal”, and that the role of humans in causing it is “clear”. The report sent out a clear and sharp message that climate change is happening now. The newly released synthesis report neatly weaves together highlights from the three IPCC reports since last year that have dealt with science, impacts and mitigation respectively. At the release of the report, IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri stated: “We have the means to limit climate change. The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”

On warming and emissions cuts

  • Anthropogenic greenhouse emissions between 2000 and 2010 were the highest in history, contributing to levels in the atmosphere unprecedented in at least 800,000 years.
  • Since 1970, total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and cement production have tripled while emissions from forestry and other land use have risen by about 40 per cent.
  • IPCC chair: "To keep a good chance of staying below 2°C, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 per cent to 70 per cent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100."
  •  On carbon budget: Last year IPCC report calculated that only a third of that budget remains. As an additional feature, the report has calculated a carbon budget to limit the warming to 1.5°C. The 2°C budget necessitates that 80 per cent of all identified fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground. The 1.5°C budget is tighter still. However, at the current growth rate, we are likely to blow past the budget in about 30 years.

On cost-benefits

  • Actions to fight climate change will result in reduction of annual global consumption of goods and services by 0.06 per cent a year this century as compared to to potential annual growth of 1.6 to 3.0 per cent without action.
  • Economic modelling has shown that restricting the warming under 2°C in the 21st century would shave about 0.04 to 0.14 per cent off annual growth. Savings from avoided climate impacts and their co-benefits like superior air quality means that real world costs are abated, and it must be compared against the cost of inaction.
  • The report estimates that the investment in low-carbon electricity and energy efficiency will have to rise by several hundred billion dollars a year before 2030 to prevent egregious climate change.

Dire warning

  • IPCC cites mass die-offs of forests, the melting of land ice, a rapid rise in sea levels that is linked to increase in coastal flooding and heat waves that have destroyed crops and killed thousands of people (see ‘Children make up for 80 per cent of deaths attributed to climate change’).
  • The report sounds warning for food supply; it mentions the strain on global production, adding that the strain would increase if emissions continue unabated. The report notes that in recent years the world’s food security has been unstable, price hikes have led to riots  and in some cases, the fall of governments.

Another core finding of the report is that climate change poses serious risks to basic human progress, in areas such as alleviating poverty.

Summary for policymakers

Past reports have always tried to err on the side of understatement. Potentially contentious points usually are stripped out from the “Summary for Policymakers”. A box of text that considered what levels of warming can be considered dangerous was dropped from the “Summary for Policymakers” to avoid usage of strong words like “dangerous”, while a less contentious word "risk" was mentioned 65 times in the final 40-page summary. To steer clear of the “equity” debate, IPCC simply states that the risks of climate change "are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development". Further, a research outlining problems with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and why it failed to achieve greater emissions reductions made the cut but was left out of the summary.The decision was made because acknowledgement of the failure of Kyoto Protocol in the summary would have been considered a blow to policymakers and may have had a negative impact on the climate negotiations.

If the litany sounds familiar from the 2007 IPCC report it's because largely it is that. However, the evidence is much more precise. The anthropogenic influence is "extremely likely", the report says, the dominant cause being the burning of fossil fuels. This is stronger language than the previous report, released in 2007, which simply concluded that it was "very likely". The one-word change stems from a 5 per cent increase in scientific certainty, which is now at 95 percent.

Experts have warned of the ever shrinking window of opportunity to limit temperature increases. Beyond 2°C of warming, the costs and risks posed by climate change are too high and it's unlikely we could deal with the consequences, nations have collectively agreed. Not acting now puts a very heavy burden on future generations, the report says. The release of the report is timed to generate impact before the UN climate negotiations scheduled for later this month in Peru. As Ban Ki-moon stated in his remarks at the release, “Science has spoken”. It is now up to politicians to strike a climate agreement by 2015 in Paris.


Low carbon economy index 2014: two degrees of separation - ambition and reality

Trends and projections in Europe 2014: tracking progress towards Europe's climate and energy targets for 2020

Quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets by developed country parties to the convention: assumptions, conditions and comparison of the level of emission reduction efforts

Issues relating to the transformation of pledges for emission reductions into quantified emission limitation

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.