Only “major institutional and technological change” can head off the catastrophic effects of global warming, a United Nationals panel announced Sunday.
In short: a reduction in carbon emissions by perhaps as much as 70 percent within the next 35 years, and the complete elimination of them by the end of the century.
“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said German scientist Ottmar Edenhofer, a chairman of Working Group III of the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change, which released the assessment. “International cooperation is key.”
The findings were released just two weeks after another big report by the IPCC, which found that the effects of climate change – from flooding to drought to a decline in crop yields – were being felt across the world, were more pronounced than previously predicted, and will likely last for centuries.
This latest report, titled “Mitigation of Climate Change,” brought together 235 authors from 58 countries, who analyzed more than 12,000 studies to assess how best to avoid – or at least reduce – those outcomes.
The effort, it found, will need to be extraordinary.
To come anywhere close to keeping the globe’s average temperature from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius – widely seen as the threshold for avoiding disastrous and potentially irreparable harm to the environment – countries will need to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70 percent during the next 35 years.
They’ll likely also need to remove some of the carbon dioxide that’s already trapped in our atmosphere, and cut emissions completely by 2100, the report said.
“Climate policies in line with the 2 degrees Celsius goal need to aim for substantial emissions reductions,” Edenhofer said in a statement posted to the IPCC website. “Avoiding further delays in mitigation and making use of a broad variety of technologies can limit the associated costs.”
The report called for broad reductions in energy use and the replanting of forests to draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which it said may prove more fruitful – and more cost effective – than pairing costly carbon-capture-and-storage devices with power plants. It also advocated for cleaner energy sources.
“The core task of climate change mitigation is decoupling greenhouse gas emissions from the growth of economies and population,” panel co-chairman Youba Sokona, of Mali, said in the statement. “Through providing energy access and reducing local air pollution, many mitigation measures can contribute to sustainable development.”
Environmental groups welcomed the report, which they said highlighted the urgency of addressing climate change while also showing that real options remain available.
“The IPCC is telling us in no uncertain terms that we are running out of time – but not out of solutions – if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement sent to reporters. “That requires decisive actions to curb carbon pollution – and an all-out race to embrace renewable sources of energy. History is calling.”