Those were the stark words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the launch of an equally stark Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the most important assessment of global warming yet. (Scroll down for conference video).

After a week of intense debate between scientists and government officials in Copenhagen, the Report concludes that climate change is happening, it’s almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts will involve phasing out fossil fuels by 2100 and growing the use of renewables from its current 30% share to 80% of the power sector by 2050.

The IPCC claims that the human influence on the climate system is clear and growing; having already increased the risk of severe heatwaves and other extreme weather. But the Report also provides a note of optimism; highlighting that the implementation of ‘stringent mitigation activities’ can ensure global warming remains within a manageable rate to create a brighter and more sustainable future.

Zero emissions

“We have the means to limit climate change,” said IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri. “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.

The Report says that reducing emissions is crucial for global warming to be limited to two degrees. The period 1983-2012 was the warmest 30-year period in 1,400 years, and all the available evidence suggests that, unless fossil fuels are phased out, the change in climate could be as much as 5°C by 2100.

For electricity production, this will mean a rapid move away from coal and into renewables and other low carbon forms, including nuclear, by 2050. The report makes a point about carbon capture and storage (CCS) – noting that fossil fuel power generation without CCS must be “phased out entirely by 2100. 

(Source: World Resources Institute)

“We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2ºC of warming closes,” added Pachauri. “To keep a good chance of staying below 2ºC, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100.

“We have that opportunity, and the choice is in our hands.”

VIDEO: IPCC Synthesis Report Conference

Paris and beyond…

The Synthesis Report builds on three separate reports released by IPCC throughout 2013-2014. It comes at a critical time for international action on climate change, with the deadline for a global deal in Paris just over a year away.

In September, more than 120 international figureheads descended upon the UN headquarters in New York to address climate change, and just last week the 28 leaders of the European Union committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 in a new climate package.

View an executive summary of the IPCC report here.

Luke Nicholls

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