Written By: Emily Adrid
Over the past few years, several reports, including the Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the 2050 Report have provided a calculated and detailed glimpse into the future of our planet, our ecosystems, our economy and our way of life if climate action isn’t taken immediately. Reports like these full of climate science and economic data are oftentimes long and difficult to read, but the content is groundbreaking. The IPCC is warning us that if we don’t act to reduce our carbon emissions by almost 50% within the next decade, our ecosystems and civilization will suffer irreversible damage. The 2050 report predicts that emerging economies have immense potential growth within the coming decades, but they will only reach this potential by exploiting the fossil fuel industry. The report’s key findings should be the basis to which world leaders and grassroots organizers enact change going forward.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body created to analyze science related to the climate crisis, published a Special Report in October of 2018. The report refocuses the safest limit of global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as opposed to 2°C emphasized by the Paris Accord in 2015. One of the key messages coming out of this report states that our planet has already reached 1°C of global warming, and we are seeing the consequences of this single degree through extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice. Perhaps the most shocking find – and the one that has received the most attention – is that we only have approximately eleven years left to dramatically reduce our carbon emissions, or suffer irreversible damage from the climate crisis. This report states that global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by at least 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching “net zero” emissions around 2050. Scientists are urging policymakers and industry leaders to take every possible action to curb global carbon emissions at a rate that falls within this deadline. If the world does not meet this benchmark, it is almost guaranteed that global warming will exceed 1.5°C. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, and avoiding overshoot can only be achieved if global carbon dioxide emissions start to decline well before 2030.
The IPCC report also stresses the exponential escalation of environmental impacts with every fraction of a degree that global temperatures increase. The jarring significance of this finding is that as the planet warms, environmental domino effects become increasingly dramatic and unpredictable. A prediction from the IPCC found that the likelihood of a sea-ice free Arctic Ocean in summer would occur once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared to at least once per decade at 2°C of warming. Also, 70-90% of coral reefs would die with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (more than 99%) would be lost at 2°C. Species loss across vertebrates, insects and plants will be 2 to 3 times more fatal with 2°C of warming as opposed to 1.5°C. In the tropics, crop yields of corn harvests will decrease 2.3 times more if the world sees 2°C of warming. That will put people out of work; it will crush their economy; it will leave people hungry. These statistics illustrate why the IPCC is trying so hard to reframe the situation to avoid these dire predictions.
One of the most notable aspects of this report is the UN’s acknowledgment that the climate crisis unevenly affects people and countries of different economic statuses. Disadvantaged populations, indigenous peoples and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods will be the most susceptible to climate-related risks impoverishing several hundred million people by 2050. The IPCC provides a framework for assessing the links between global warming of 1.5°C and poverty eradication, reducing inequalities and climate action. The report also recognizes that in order to truly address these challenges, social justice and equity are essential in order to develop pathways that aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The report states it perfectly: “Widening opportunities and ensuring that options, visions, and values are taken into account between and within countries and communities without making the poor and disadvantages worse off” is the only way to completely address the climate crisis.
The 2050 Report, published in 2017 by Pricewaterhousecoopers (PwC), lays out the future of global economics by the year 2050. They predict emerging economies have enormous economic potential. The seven emerging (E7) economies in the world are China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia, and Turkey because they are experiencing rapid economic growth and industrialization. Unfortunately, in order to obtain their full economic potential at such a fast pace, an industrial revolution led by the fossil fuel industry is almost inevitable. Countries like the United States and Japan (both considered advanced (G7) economies along with Canada, Germany, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom all considered highly industrialized economies) already experienced their own industrial revolution centuries ago. E7 economies are looking at us G7 economies saying, ‘If countries all over Europe and North America were allowed to exploit the fossil fuel industry in their industrial revolutions, why can’t we?’ As global economic power shifts from advanced economies to emerging economies, we must answer this question with solar energy, wind energy, sustainable farming, electric transportation and more – not with coal, oil and gas.
Emerging economies must figure out how to grow and develop during the climate crisis. The climate crisis poses a number of risks to economic growth not only for emerging economies, but for every economy on the planet. There are physical risks like the increased frequency of natural disasters that threaten infrastructure, agriculture, and people. These risks are likely to be concentrated in countries of warmer climates near the tropics, which also tend to be poorer countries. As island and coastal nations go underwater, their economies will take significant hits as people become displaced and infrastructure crumbles. In order to avoid these threats, we must find solutions. there must be a way to incentivize businesses and individuals to rapidly lower their carbon footprint. The United Nations has taken leadership on this front by giving money to developing nations to advance renewable energy in their countries. E7 economies must use this as an example and incentivize businesses and individuals to rapidly lower their carbon footprint. They must align their potential economic growth with sustainable development because one won’t occur without the other.
Now that the world is aware of the information provided in both these reports, what actions will be taken to mitigate the potential consequences? This September, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres has called a Climate Action Summit inviting scientists, world leaders, local policymakers and the private sector to create concrete, realistic plans to cut emissions by 45% over the next decade to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This summit will address how to fully transform economies in line with sustainable development. Those at the summit will develop solutions in six areas: a global transition to renewable energy, resilient infrastructure and cities, sustainable agriculture and management of forests and oceans, adaptation to climate impacts and alignment of public and private finance with a net zero economy. Most importantly, this summit will build momentum for enhancing international, national and local ambition accelerating climate action.
After reading this, it is easy to feel hopeless and even guilty. I’ve felt this way hundreds of times, especially after reading both reports. However, I’ve also felt hopeful, optimistic, and conviction because there is a powerful, growing movement building all over the world led largely by young people that care deeply about solving the climate crisis. If you care about this issue, there is plenty that you can do. You can get involved with local efforts to solve the climate crisis by signing up for one of our campaign committees here! There are many local groups working to solve the climate crisis, and any small action contributes to the cause. Now is the time to step up to the challenge!