According to an in-depth study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), climate target levels will become much more difficult to achieve, and more expensive, if the problem isn’t tackled soon.

It points to a lack of political will among world leaders as the biggest barrier in achieving this, with many countries reluctant to take serious steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement policies that could help mitigate climate change.

Social uncertainties, which relate to public awareness and can influence consumer energy demand, were also considered a significant obstacle.

Both of these were ranked of higher concern than geophysical and technological uncertainties around climate change, such as the future availability of energy supply and carbon capture systems.

This is because after a certain point, there is little chance of limiting temperature rise to below 2°C. According to IIASA energy programme leader and study co-author Keywan Riahi, the longer nations hold off from taking action, the riskier the situation will become.

“With a 20-year delay, you can throw as much money as you have at the problem, and the best outcome you can get is a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature rise below two degrees,” he said.

Riahi’s colleague at IIASA, David McCollum, added that the issue of energy consumption needed urgent attention.

“How much energy the world consumes going forward turns out to be a much bigger swing factor for climate change than the availability of technologies like solar and wind power, biofuels, and so on,” he argued.

“Energy efficiency, improved urban planning, lifestyle changes – these things on the demand side of the energy equation are so important, yet they receive relatively little attention compared to the supply side.”

The Austrian-based research centre undertook detailed research to examine the probability of keeping average global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels under varying levels of climate policy stringency, and thus mitigation costs.

The research, which was undertaken in association with the National Center for Atmospheric Research and science university ETH Zurich, quantified and ranked various uncertainties associated with efforts to mitigate climate change.

These included questions about the climate itself, uncertainties related to future technologies and energy demand, and political uncertainties as to when action will be taken.

Maxine Perella

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