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Climate change action: now or never

The window of opportunity to mitigate climate change is speedily narrowing. The IPCC’s latest report shows us that if we want to do something about it, the time is now.

Global emissions are expected to rise by 14% in the current decade. That’s despite current climate commitments being implemented around the world. According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this will have a catastrophic impact and wipe out any chance of keeping the 1.5-degree target alive.

United Nations’ (UN) scientists have warned that inaction on global warming could lead to dangerous and widespread disruptions such as a collapse in ecosystems, extinction of species, deadly heatwaves and floods.

“Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction – now,” says UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

Guterres has called the IPCC’s latest report ‘an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.’

Deeper emission cuts 

The good news is that we can still do something about it, such as taking ambitious accelerated action and making rapid and deep cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions.

“It has been demonstrated for a long time that mitigating climate change is up to 20 times cheaper than dealing with the consequences of it. We have to invest now for the welfare of the coming generations,” says Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation.

We have to invest now for the welfare of the coming generations.

Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation

“We have to get rid of fossil fuels, stop using coal in energy production and convert our transport fleet to be more dependent on electric vehicles and climate-friendly fuels. We also have to stop using natural gas to heat our houses and use heat pump systems instead,” he emphasises.  

Apart from drastically reducing emissions, the world also needs to adapt to the changing climate because millions of people in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Small Islands, and the Arctic are already vulnerable to acute food and water insecurity. 

Adapt or perish

The IPCC recommends leaning on nature to improve people’s lives and reduce the impact of climate change. Its report points out that society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon. To do that, we must restore degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserve 30 to 50 per cent of our planet’s land, freshwater, and ocean habitats. 

But nature alone can’t help to solve the problem. Therefore, we also need to significantly increase the adaptive capacity of urban and rural settlements.

The report points out that integrated, inclusive planning and investment in everyday urban infrastructure decisions – including social, ecological, and grey/physical infrastructure – offers us a critical opportunity to increase climate resilient development.

Adaptation and mitigation must be pursued with equal force and urgency.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

“As climate impacts worsen – and they will – scaling up investments will be essential for survival. Adaptation and mitigation must be pursued with equal force and urgency. That’s why I have been pushing to get to 50 per cent of all climate finance for adaptation,” says António Guterres.

But an overwhelming majority of global tracked climate finance is aimed at mitigation, with only a small part (predominantly from public sources) targeted towards adaptation. That needs to change because adverse climate impacts reduce the availability of financial resources and increase financial constraints for adaptation – particularly when it comes to developing the countries in greatest need.

The money trail

Clearly, a lot hinges on climate finance, which seems to be the real problem. On the one hand, rich countries, which account for a third of global emissions, have already missed the 2020 deadline to commit USD 100bn a year.

On the other hand, emerging economies that are focused on GDP growth and responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s C02 emissions claim they are not receiving adequate funding for climate finance from richer countries. But this argument is not good enough.

“European countries and wealthy countries have reduced emissions in the past 15 years, whereas their economies have been growing. So, there is no automatic link between GDP growth and the growth of emissions. Therefore, this vicious circle can be broken and that is very encouraging,” says Taalas.  

Encouraging it may be, but the writing is on the wall. The USD 100bn impasse can no longer be the reason for a status quo. Furthermore, the world no longer has time to drag its feet on the 1.5-degree climate change target. We need to act fast, and we need to act now. Otherwise, this window of opportunity may shut forever, impacting generations to come.  

 

Written by

Payal Bhattar