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Climate survival ‘now or never’ for every sector

The last instalment of an era-defining set of reports by scientists concludes global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by mid-decade, requiring action from all governments and businesses.

The last instalment of an era-defining set of reports by scientists concludes global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by mid-decade, requiring action from all governments and businesses.

The conclusion comes from the third and final instalment of the Sixth Assessment Report on climate change by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a process that started back in 2016 and has involved hundreds of expert authors.

The first instalment, published in August 2021, provided an update on the causes of climate change. The second, published earlier in 2022, explores the projected impacts of climate change and implications for society over the coming decades.

‘Now or never’

The latest instalment focuses on the progress being made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avert the worst impacts of climate change. It shows that, while the rate of growth in annual emissions has slowed in recent years, deep emissions reductions are required urgently across all sectors of the economy to limit global warming to the 1.5°C agreed by world leaders.

Failure to bring the planet back on track would have catastrophic consequences, as laid out in the IPCC’s second report earlier this year.

In concrete terms, scientists say global emissions need to peak by 2025 at the very latest, then halve by 2030 compared to the start of the decade, before reaching net zero in the early 2050s.

“It’s now or never; if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” said one IPCC scientist. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

Key actions across all sectors

Required actions include a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification of heating and transport, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels like hydrogen.

Reducing emissions in industry will require using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products, minimising waste and introducing lower carbon production processes. Changes to people’s lifestyles and behaviour, particularly via travel and food choices, will also be vital, especially in wealthier parts of the world. Up to 45 per cent of global emissions are currently produced by just 10 per cent of the population.

Meanwhile, ending deforestation and using agriculture, forestry and other nature-based solutions to remove significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere will also be crucial to keeping global temperatures under control. However, scientists warn that nature “cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors”, providing further proof that countries and businesses cannot rely on carbon offsets in place of reducing their emissions.

‘Much larger set of businesses need to take action’

Experts are also urging businesses to look beyond their own impacts and use their influence to lobby policymakers, politicians, and the trade bodies they are members of, to increase their ambitions.

Eliot Whittington, director of policy at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, commented: “This report should be read as a how-to guide for any decision maker interested in navigating towards security, success and a sustainable environment over the next few decades. This will affect every business and every sector, and leading businesses are the ones working out what it means for them and their context, and working hard to shape a future they can be part of.

“Catastrophic climate impacts represent threats to our society, our economy and our environment in a way that will be existential for many businesses as well. A growing number of businesses have set net zero goals and started to deliver the innovation and transformation required by this – but a much larger set of businesses need to take action and embark on this journey – delivering not empty promises but real commitments of action.”

More investment needed

The report shows that total investment in the transition needs to be between three to six times higher than current levels by 2030, with each tonne of emissions likely to cost an average of $100 to eliminate or remove between now and 2030.

The authors point out that there is more than enough global capital to achieve this, and that the costs of technologies such as solar, wind and batteries have already dropped by up to 85 per cent since 2010.

Alok Sharma, president of the COP26 climate summit, commented: “This report makes clear that the window to keep 1.5°C alive is closing alarmingly fast. But this report also gives hope that the rate of growth in emissions is slowing and that thanks to the falling cost of renewables and technological innovation it is possible to transition to a cleaner future.

“We know that a net zero economy presents huge opportunities for growth and the creation of good green jobs and so countries and companies need to accelerate that transition.”

SMEs in Greater Manchester that want to get on the path to net zero emissions, but are not sure where to start, are encouraged to sign up for our fully funded Journey to Net Zero programme.

Register for Journey to Net Zero

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