On Monday, April 4, 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the United Nations’ department responsible for issues related to climate change – has published its latest assessment report on the current climate situation. According to this rather grim report, there must be “rapid, deep, and immediate” cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the most catastrophic outcomes of global warming, such as massive heatwaves, terrifying storms, and water shortages.
To achieve this, several steps must be urgently taken, including switching to renewable energy, making buildings more efficient, turning cities clean and green, sinking carbon back into the land, revving up electric vehicles, and addressing inequity in order to bolster cooperation.
“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5C,” warned the co-chair of the report James Skea, a professor of Sustainable Energy at Imperial College London. Together with his colleagues, Professor Skea has argued that, in order to save out planet from a climate catastrophe, carbon emissions from everything that we do, eat, buy, or use must peak by 2025, reduce by 43 percent by 2030, and decline rapidly after that, reaching net-zero by the middle of the 21st century.
While many scientists, policy makers, and government officials are pessimistic that such massive reductions will be possible, the IPCC report offers detailed guidance on how to reach this goal. Since energy and heat production account for the largest fraction of global emissions (about one quarter), switching to renewable energy sources relying on solar and wind power in the following years is crucial. Fortunately, this type of technology is getting increasingly cheaper and more widely available globally.
Constructing more efficient and “climate-conscious” buildings will also have profound impacts on reducing the world’s emissions. Since in 2019, emissions from buildings accounted for about 21 percent of greenhouse gases that reached the atmosphere, powering buildings with more renewable energy, using more sustainable construction materials, and creating more efficient heating and cooling systems are all key measures to rapidly decarbonize the world’s buildings.
However, focusing on individual buildings will not suffice. Urban planning measures such as increasing density, mixing commercial and residential areas so people can live closer to work, or developing public transit corridors could help cut urban carbon pollution by a quarter by 2050. Moreover, investing in green spaces could make cities safer amid intensifying heatwaves and flooding, while also pulling and sequestering carbon from the air.
Sinking a sufficient amount of carbon back into the land needs much more than urban green spaces though. Protecting the world’s forests and other carbon-rich ecosystems, restoring wetlands, curbing fertilizer use, and reducing the amount of meat that we consume could help pull billions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere each year.
In addition, since the transportation industry is one of the biggest sources of emissions globally, revving up electric vehicles, exploring hydrogen and advanced biofuels for shipping and aviation, and embracing cultural and behavioral changes such as more remote work and urban planning that allows people to travel by foot or bike could help countries eliminate fossil-fuel based transport systems.
Finally, wealthy nations should help poorer ones to switch to renewable energy sources and sustainable development practices. Although it will require a three to six-fold increase in funding to assist these countries cut off their current greenhouse emissions and switch to more sustainable sources, investing in a fairer world remains absolutely crucial for saving our planet.
IPCC’s full report, together with a summary for policymakers and a technical summary, can be found here.