IPCC: climate change risks are stark, but world has means and money to respond

Image of a globe burning in a frying pan

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published its most powerfully worded report yet on the urgent need to tackle climate change.

The IPCC Synthesis report says the “severe, widespread and irreversible impacts” of climate change have already increased the risk of extreme weather events, which in turn increase the risk of wars and threats to food security.

Last week at the launch of the report – compiled by thousands of scientists and described as “the most audited scientific document in history” – UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said it contained “no ambiguity”.

He warned that leaders must act quickly and decisively. “Time is not on our side,” he added.

The report states that “behaviour, lifestyle and culture have a considerable influence” on energy use and associated emissions, which underlines the important role campaigns such as Meat Free Monday play in encouraging people to eat greener.

Cutting back on our meat consumption is one simple, significant change we can all make. As the IPCC report makes clear: “Emissions can be substantially lowered through changes in consumption patterns … and dietary change.”

“The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC. However, he also underlined the major issue, at a time when global carbon emissions are on the rise: “We have the means to limit climate change … All we need is the will to change.”

Tempering its stark message, the report makes it clear that humans have the technological means to curb the effects of climate change. It also makes the economic case for acting immediately to do so.

Until now, no IPCC report has stated explicitly that cutting back on global CO2 production and investing in clean technology is affordable (at hundreds of billions of dollars a year to 2030) compared to the alternative. Wait until 2030 and the cost of reducing carbon dioxide will leap by 50 per cent, it says.

The report is also the first to observe that carbon emissions worldwide will have to fall to zero, as well as point up the role of decarbonising in tackling global poverty.

In March, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden highlighted the threat to carbon targets of the world’s fast-growing appetite for meat.

In a report it said if beef and lamb consumption continued to grow at current rates they would account for 50 per cent of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, while contributing only 3 per cent to calorie intake.