Climate Change 40th IPCC Session Banner (IPCC)

Published on November 3rd, 2014 | by Sandy Dechert


Climate Change Now, Fossil Fuels Must Go By 2100

November 3rd, 2014 by  

With the release this morning in Copenhagen, Denmark, of the final world Synthesis Report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel, it has become evident that all peoples of Earth need to take action (Sunday, November 2, 2014).

40th IPCC Session Banner (IPCC)Why is this important to Americans? IPCC interfaces on a global scale between science and policymaking. World governments rely on it for worldwide action analysis and planning to adapt to impacts of climate change and prevent catastrophe.

It’s a small world, and we all have to live in it.

Says Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for this 40th session:

“We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2ºC of warming closes. 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.”

The panel adopted a Summary for Policymakers and completed work on its agenda at 4:40 pm Saturday.

Yesterday’s summary, which Alister Doyle of Reuters calls a “handbook,” is currently the world’s most comprehensive assessment of scientific knowledge on climate change. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (who is also President of the incoming COP 20 in Lima) joined Pachauri in Copenhagen, along with the World Meteorological Organization’s Michel Jarraud, IPCC Secretary Renate Christ, and some of the contributors to the report.

Preparation for yesterday’s report

Science by negotiation (twitter/Glen Peters)

The IPCC has been meeting there over the past week to hammer out the final Synthesis Report. The new document summarizes three massive climate investigations (Fifth Assessment Report, or AR5) begun by IPCC’s 195 member governments in October 2009. The world’s finest scientists and climate policy advisors completed them during the past year and two months:

IPCC Fifth Assessment reports

Physical science of climate change (September 2013): The Physical Science working group found that climate change has primarily been caused by humans since 1951; that many indicators of change (ice sheet melt, glacial melt, and sea level rise) have all accelerated faster than predicted; and that climate change is impacting meteorological conditions by increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather.

Impacts, adaptations, and vulnerability (March 2014): The Impacts and Vulnerabilities working group found that people everywhere are vulnerable to such extreme events and have done little to prepare for or adapt to them; that climate change is already harming agricultural yields and affecting food availability and prices; and that further delay will cause temperature targets to be exceeded. Temperature targets such as the 2ºC of warming agreed upon by world leaders will soon be out of reach if no further action is taken.

Mitigation measures (April 2014): The Mitigation of Climate Change working group concluded that the energy sector must pitch in for us to transition to a low-carbon economy, tripling or quadrupling use of renewables by 2050 to meet temperature targets; that restricting warming to 2ºC is still practical and affordable, with renewable costs falling and deforestation largely slowed or reversed and investments in climate mitigation having only a near-negligible impact on global economic growth; and that continuing to invest in long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure could lock us into a harmful emissions pathway.

Major findings confirmed

As we reported on the August draft, the final report states that the scientific case is irrefutable and action is needed immediately. Agreement becomes more important every day in the face of conflicting national priorities and escalating climate changes.

Every government in the world has had an opportunity to review and comment on the IPCC’s draft. To complete the climate synthesis, governments and report authors went line-by-line through the draft and section by section through the complete report. Leading scientists attempted to reflect the balance of the evidence succinctly in the report:

  • Global anthropomorphic  CO2 emissions (IPCC pre-release synthesis)Emissions of greenhouse gases and other drivers caused by man account for most observed global warming since the mid-20th century.
  • On all continents and across the oceans, the world has already experienced the impacts of climate change.
  • The more our human activity disrupts the climate, the greater are the risks. In other words, continuing to allow greenhouse gases to accumulate will alter all components of the climate system and presage widespread and profound impacts that will affect the natural world and all levels of human society.

Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (Mitigation), finds it technically feasible to transition to a low-carbon economy. However, he notes, “what is lacking are appropriate policies and institutions. The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.”

Substantial reductions in emissions require large changes in investment patterns. For mitigation scenarios that stabilize CO2-equivalent concentrations in the range of 430-530 ppm by 2100, annual investments in low-carbon electricity supply and energy efficiency in key sectors (transport, industry and buildings) are projected to rise by several hundred billion dollars per year before 2030. If enabled, the private sector can join government in financing mitigation and adaptation. However, financing currently lags behind desired goals. Target economic scenarios shown in the draft amounted to the following:

  • $30 billion/year decline in fossil fuel investment,
  • $147 billion/year increase in low-carbon energy investment, and
  • $100 billion/year increase in energy efficiency investments.

Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change

According to IPCC’s official news release, “the Synthesis Report finds that mitigation cost estimates vary, but that global economic growth would not be strongly affected. In business-as-usual scenarios, consumption—a proxy for economic growth—grows by 1.6% to 3% per year over the 21st century. Ambitious mitigation would reduce this by about 0.06 percentage points…. These economic estimates of mitigation costs do not account for the benefits of reduced climate change, nor do they account for the numerous co-benefits associated with human health, livelihoods, and development.”

For a more targeted, non-IPCC reading of the numbers, the ClimateNexus strategic communications group recommends the recently released New Climate Economy Report. This analysis by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate found a global need for $90 trillion of infrastructure investment over the next 15 years. It also figured that directing this capital toward low-carbon investments would cost only about 5% more initially and also deliver many substantial benefits to health and welfare.

Adaptation will play a key role in decreasing the risks, says Vicente Barros, co-chair of Working Group II (Impacts, adaptations, and vulnerability). It is vital that adaptation be integrated with development in order to make up for situations our past emissions and existing infrastructure have already caused.

Total annual anthropogenic GHG emissions (IPCC pre-release draft)Adaptation alone cannot help us withstand negative impacts, the report says. Substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are at the core of limiting the risks of climate change. We need mitigation to slow the rate and scope of warming. It will increase the time we have to adapt, potentially by several decades.

Different mitigation routes and combinations can reduce emissions over the next few decades enough to give us a two-in-three chance to limit warming to 2ºC relative to pre-industrial levels, which is the goal set by governments. Other considerations include tipping points—dangerous negative uncertainties—in climate projections and the need for decisionmakers to consider catastrophic outcomes.

Final analysis

As Planetsave noted several months ago, the synthesis presents some clear warnings. It lays down two paths that depend on energy choices we make today: continuing to use fossil fuels and reaching a 4ºC warmer future by 2100, with severe, possibly irreversible climate impacts; or achieving a minimally affected future by that time using clean energy, mitigation practices, and intelligent adaptations to continue economic growth and sustainable development.

Range of possible GHG emissions, 2000-2100 (IPCC pre-final AR5 summary)

Continued burning of fossil fuels could increase temperatures between 3.7ºC and 4.8ºC by the end of the century. Warming beyond 4ºC would likely result in many extinctions, increased water scarcity, large global and regional food insufficiency, irreversible impacts on presently normal human activities, and persistence and/or expansion of conflict and wars. Recent research from the World Bank, this year’s US assessment, and Carbon Tracker generally concurs.

The IPCC Synthesis Report clearly states that many risks of climate change challenge least developed countries and vulnerable communities like island states the most. Also, people who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change. Says Pachauri:

“Many of those most vulnerable to climate change have contributed and contribute little to greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing climate change will not be possible if individual agents advance their own interests independently. It can only be achieved through cooperative responses, including international cooperation.”

Pachauri also gives us the bottom line, saying that climate change is everyone’s problem and that we have the means to limit it. We can implement many solutions that 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.”

Stay tuned to CleanTechnica for more on international reaction, the IPCC process, live reports from December’s IPCC COP20/CMP10 conference in Lima, Peru, and other climate news as it unfolds. IPCC-41 will meet from 24-27 February 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

  • Bob_Wallace

    By 2050 NG is likely to no longer be cheap. With wind and solar dropping below 4c/kWh and short time storage available for no more than 5c/kWh it’s likely NG will be pushed into the “last >5%” niche fairly quickly. A combination of storage, overbuilding, load-shifting and power purchases from other grids may quickly take that down under 1%.

    We (at least the US) should have a lot of paid off NG plants so keeping them on standby and firing them up a few hours a year wouldn’t make a big impact on the price of electricity.

    And, remember, we’re making predictions about times 20, 30, or more years from now based on the technology we have in hand right now. Think about what may well be invented as we go forward.

    Your point about social pressure speeding the movement to EVs is a good one that deserves more attention.

    We’ll reach the point at which ICEVs will seem “old fashioned” to many. Those sort of people who have closets full of clothes in perfectly fine condition but go out and buy what’s in fashion will switch to EVs as much to do drive what others are driving as to save money.

    The collapse of fossil fuel industries are likely to happen quickly once underway. We’ve seen the coal industry lose half its value in a couple of years. Investing in coal is almost certainly a money loser going forward. With problems raising cash for new projects the industry will just deflate.

  • spec9

    Miami is gone. It will be around for another 100 years or so . . . but we are not moving fast enough to save it. We are going to have to lose some cities before people start to act for real.

  • 2100 is probably too long to keep burning fossil fuels.

    We should probably stop at least by 2050, and I have heard that the carbon budget will be used up if we continue at the current rate – by 2030.

    • JamesWimberley

      I was surprised by this too. It’s worth remembering that the IPCC reports – especially the syntheses for policymakers – are not unadulterated science, but influenced by government representatives. Contrary to Fox News propaganda, the IPCC findings and recommendations are subject to systematic bias – in the direction of underplaying dangers.

    • Larmion

      Previous reports always stressed for the need to cut CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 2050 or even 2030. This one goes much further: it calls for a total end to fossil fuel use by 2100. Knowing that transport and heating use far, far more fossil fuels than electricity generation, that’s actually a more ambitious goal than previous ones.

  • Wayne Williamson

    At a bare minimum, the cement contribution needs to be split out from the fossil and flaring. The fossil and flaring are related as one is created by drilling for the other, still it would be nice to see them separated also.

  • timbuck93

    This is not *OUR* fault as people in non government.
    The REAL reason for climate change is industrial agriculture.
    It uses about 50%+ of our water compared to just 5% or maybe it was 0.5% for residential.

    Also methane gas is over 200 times more destructive than CO2, so… well, you do the math.
    Also the rain forest is being cut down for more agricultural land…

    • Larmion

      That statement shows a complete lack of understanding of plant science. The crop varieties used in modern agriculture have water use efficiencies well in excess of those in older varieties and the low till farming methods used also increase water use efficiency. In rain fed intensive agricultural systems like those found in Europe and parts of the US, water use per unit of output is far lower than that of equivalent organic farming operations.

      The real problem is irrigation, especially in California. The growing of crops ill suited to the local climate, be it organic or industrial, will require unsustainably large levels of water use. How all that relates to global warming is another question all together.

      As for deforestation: with the important exception of Indonesia’s peat soils, rainforest soil is typically extremely infertile. As such, it doesn’t support much more than some extensive pastures. Typically, rainforests are cut by loggers, miners or small scale farmers who leave it fallow after they’ve done their business. At that point cattle ranchers move in because the land is dirt cheap anyway and you can put a few cows on pretty much every soil no matter how poor.

      Take Brazil’s soybean industry, which is often mistakenly seen as a leading cause of deforestation. Most of the growth in Brazil’s soy output in recent decades comes from the Cerrado, which is a savannah type landscape. Rainforest soil cannot support productive arable farming.

      There’s also an inherent contradiction in wishing to reduce land use while also wishing to limit integrated agriculture and the associated increase in output per unit of land. Remember Borlaugh’s hypothesis!

      Methane is also far less than 200 times as prevalent as CO2. CO2 remains by far the biggest single source of global warming.

      All of which is beside the point anyway. Carbon emissions come mainly from transport, heating and electricity use. Agriculture plays at most a minor role in those three.

      • timbuck93

        Think of all the cows we have though, — in fact HOW many cows do we have?? That’s a good question! I still think methane is prevalent.

        • JamesWimberley

          Methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, true. But its residence time in the atmosphere is much less. That’s why scenarios that look forward 30 or 50 years concentrate on CO2.

          • Larmion

            The lack of attention to methane in many scenarios is not just due to it being less significant than carbon dioxide, but mainly because of the huge uncertainty surrounding methane.

            We don’t know how much of it is emitted either by humans or naturally, we don’t know how those emissions are spread geographically, we’re only beginning to understand its aersol interactions, we’re only beginning to notice its degredation by radicals in the higher layers of the athmosphere etc.

            Anyone attempting to make a viable model for the effects of methane is forced to make sweeping generalizations and guesstimates both about how fast it is released and about how fast it is broken down (we seem to be underestimating both parameters).

            CO2 is nice and easy – its anthropogenic source are limited in number (mainly cement and fossil fuels), its natural sources fairly small and predictable and due to it being nearly inert we can assume that there are no significant interactions with other parts of the athmosphere. No other greenhouse gas behaves that nicely.

        • Larmion

          That’s another issue entirely. Yes, we produce far too much meat and yes, far too much of that meat comes from inefficient ruminants.


          a) One shouldn’t aim to eliminate all beef production. Some soils are too wet, too dry or too poor for arable farming but just about fertile enough to allow natural grassland to develop. The only viable and sustainable way to use that land is to put some cows, goats or sheep on it. This type of grass-fed ruminant farming is a environmentally sound form of farming: it allows valorisation of land with limited agricultural value or biodiversity, thereby reducing the strain on truly valuable ecosystems and farmlands.

          b) Ruminants offer a cheap and effective way of using some waste streams for agriculture and food processing. Cellulose-rich waste like straw can only be converted into food by feeding it to ruminants. Anaerobic digestion or cellulosic ethanol offer alternative ways of using waste, but the first is limited in scope and the second is expensive, immature and returns no organic carbon to the soil, thereby depleting it.

          In short: we need fewer cows and we need to feed them differently, but we shouldn’t aim to eliminate meat entirely. Swedish studies suggest a diet that includes 5-10% animal products, mostly dairy, to be the most sustainable diet.

    • Kevin McKinney

      What isn’t mentioned in this subthread is the role of animal husbandry: there’s a roughly factor of 10 decreased in energy efficiency when you move one step up the food chain. It’s pretty much inherent in the energy dynamics, and plays out in especially exaggerated form when we consider modern feedlot husbandry, which hogs–no pun intended–fossil fuels, directly creates large amounts of methane, and is water-intensive to boot. Overall, a number of analyses of found that reducing or eliminating meat consumption is a very effective way to lower one’s carbon footprint.

      • timbuck93

        exactly, it’s just not sustainable which how much delicious beef, hog, and chicken we consume, we just have to eat less meat — not cut it out, because I strongly believe you won’t be the same without it.

        • Dragon

          I’ve been vegetarian for the last 18 years due to concern for the environment. I still feel like myself.

          But if you feel like you can’t go “cold turkey”, reducing meat consumption is a great first step.

      • Larmion

        On the other hand, animals allow the partial recovery of energy from agricultural waste, poor soils and food processing refuse (see my post above). Therefore, most studies indicate that a small portion of animal-derived foodstuffs, mainly dairy but some meat, is actually a benefit to the environment.

        Of course, there’s a huge difference between a small portion of waste or grass fed meat in your diet and the typical western diet that requires huge and inefficient factory farming operations.

        A return to the diet our great-greatparents had, one that included meat as a Sunday treat rather than as a staple, would probably be the healthiest, most sustainable and – dare I say it – tastiest option.

  • Matt

    Goal “to give us a two-in-three chance to limit warming to 2ºC relative” is to weak a goal. That means a 33% change of getting more than 2C, not a whole lot better odds than the flip of the dice.

    • Kevin McKinney

      Yes, that’s what is sometimes called the “ambition gap.” It’s ironic that a lot of folks will accept a 1-3 chance of such an enormous catastrophe when they won’t accept risks of, say, catching Ebola, or losing their insurance coverage, that are orders of magnitude smaller.

      • rockyredneck

        The perception of enormous can vary a whole lot. To many people a 2 or 3 degree temperature increase does not sound very threatening.

        • Mike333

          The catastrophic effects of the future are hard to explain, but, this is weak tea. This is our generations World War III, and clearly we’re no where near even starting a serious response.

          • rockyredneck

            Also very hard to prove conclusively.

        • Kevin McKinney

          True. But the consequences of that apparently slight change are all of ‘enormous’, encompassing serious loss of biodiversity, serious threat to global food security, significant public health challenges, and very large economic damages. (Indeed, my rough estimate of damages so far, with only 0.7-0.8 C warming, is that we are already in excess of 100,000 premature deaths and $100 billion US.)

          One of the problems is that people tend to assume that a shift in the *mean* temperature is similar to a like shift in, say, daily temperatures: since those of us in temperate climes might easily see seasonal shifts in excess of 40 C, that 2-3 doesn’t look like much. But that’s the wrong comparison, for several reasons.

          First, land warms much more than ocean, so a 2-3 C swing in the global mean would mean much larger swings over much of the planet’s continents. Second, 2-3 C are equivalent to climate shifts of some hundreds of miles, roughly speaking, so Louisville, KY,–or even Toronto, Canada–might be seeing a climate similar to present-day Atlanta, GA. Third, they’d be seeing it with local biota adapted to their current climatic conditions. Fourth, this would be happening over most of the world, simultaneously. And fifth, there is good reason to expect that after 2 C or so we could be experiencing enough additional ‘feedbacks’ that additional warming would be triggered–things such as albedo changes due to melting ice, increased atmospheric methane due to melting tundra and permafrost, and increased water vapor content in the atmosphere. (Actually, we’ve been seeing that last for about 20 years now, but it would be best if we don’t push it too much further.)

          For more on what’s termed ‘impacts’ in the jargon, see this: Mark Lynas’s “Six Degrees”: A Summary Review

        • Dragon

          People that write articles like the above should really stress how bad going over 2C would be because you’re right, just saying 2C temperature rise sounds trivial. Even 2C has a lot of bad consequences and risks setting off tipping points that will push things out of control. We’re nearing 1C now and seeing a large rise in natural disasters costing billions that have displaced up to 2 million people at a time and kill hundreds of thousands yearly and are causing food shortages and price spikes. 2C will be much more than twice as bad.

    • Larmion

      It’s not really a lack of ambition. The relatively low certainty of the prediction has more to do with the inherent uncertainty of climate models, especially with regards to the flexibility and mechanism of carbon sinks.

      To simplify somewhat, every respectable climate model predicts that global warming is real, but they vary widely in their estimates of how fast that warming is happening and in how quickly sinks and sources of carbon respond.

      As this report is a meta-analysis, a study of studies, it aggregates a lot of uncertain data and draws a consensus from that. Needless to say, the aggregate of models with a high degree of uncertainty will retain a fairly large degree of uncertainty.

      In short: we don’t really know how much carbon we can emit before we reach two degrees. We have a very good ballpark estimate but with quite a bit of residual variation on either side of that.

      • Mike333

        Until the oil industry in general, and Exxon for example start spending 50% of profits on Wind and Solar Now, you can kiss your future goodbye. Serious Response means Serious Money Now.

        We’re talking about a 20 Billion Dollar a year commitment from Exxon, that we’re not seeing.

        But, shareholders should reflect on this: Exxon PE for doing Nothing is: 12. GE, diversified into Wind and Solar is: 19.7. That’s a lot of Serious LOST MONEY Exxon is giving up for being managed by a Right Wing Troll.

        Repubs are managing themselves into Bankruptcy. Sure, it’s slow but it’s real.

      • GCO

        You’re driving fast. Suddenly you see an obstacle ahead of you (warming); it becomes clear you won’t be able to avoid it (it’s happening).
        Do you:

        A) slow down as much as you can to limit the severity of the impact, or

        B) keep going until all questions about the performance of your tires, seat belts etc are answered with absolute certainty?

        The IPCC reports have been increasingly clear and damning: we’re really in deep sh’t if we continue not to act.
        Arguing instead whether it’s “extremely deep” or merely “very deep” is simply irresponsible.

        • Larmion

          Agreed, but that’s not relevant at all to what I’m saying.

          The IPCC tries to estimate how much carbon we can emit before warming reaches two degrees. The problem is that the confidence interval required for a 95% confidence interval (the scientific gold standard) is impossibly wide, so a 66% confidence level is all we can ask for.

          Note that you shouldn’t interprete that as ‘there’s a 33% chance we’ll miss 2 degrees at that level of carbon’, that’s a common statistical fallacy. The confidence level is not nearly as clear cut as that. All it does is provide a rough estimate of how much uncertainty your data contains.

          I’m not arguing for targets that lack in ambition. I’m just correcting a wrong interpretation of a statistical tool.

Back to Top ↑