By Sean Martin
The world must move away from carbon-intensive fuels and aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions if it is to avert the more serious consequences of climate change, a United Nations report has warned.
Revealing a contradiction between Conservative party policy – in particular its plan to cease further construction of onshore wind farms – and leading scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said there should be a conscious move towards renewables rather than away from them.
The report said greenhouse gas emissions had risen quicker between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the previous three decades. It added that, of the 264 years since 1750, around half of the total amount of carbon humans have pumped into the atmosphere has been emitted in only the past 40 years.
Fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes made up around 78% of total greenhouse gas emissions between 1979 and 2010, the IPCC said. In order to ensure global temperatures do not rise by more than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the report concluded that emissions will need to be slashed by 40% by the middle of this century and be near-zero come the end of the century.
The extent of such changes will require large monetary outlays for virtually all governments and policy makers. Even before the most recent report, the chair of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, told the Japan Times that the cost of mitigating climate change should always be weighed against the consequences of not doing so.
“Of course it’s difficult, but if you don’t stabilise the climate of this planet, then the impacts are going to be progressively more serious,” he said. “The cost of inaction is going to be substantially higher and certainly makes our life much more difficult.”
Echoing the calls, Friends of the Earth executive director, Andy Atkins, said rich countries should lead by example in the fight.
“Bold international action to cut our use of fossil fuels is urgently required to steer the planet away from catastrophic climate change,” he said. “Rich nations must take the lead by rapidly weaning themselves off coal, gas and oil and funding low-carbon grown in poorer countries.”
The IPCC report took four years to put together and followed studies into global temperatures, sea levels and the consequences of temperature rises. It comes just four months after the Department of Energy and Climate Change published figures showing 40.3% of Scotland’s electricity consumption in 2012 was met through the renewable sector – a rise of 16.2% since 2010.
The figures were positive for the Scottish Government, which is on track to reach its interim target of supplying half of the country’s electricity through renewable energy by 2015. Its longer-term goals are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% come 2020 and by 80% come 2050.
Only last week, First Minister Alex Salmond told an international energy summit that Scotland could become “the intellectual powerhouse of green energy”.
“Some of the energy, security and environmental consequences of the world’s heavy reliance on hydrocarbon energy are now coming home to roost,” he told the Bloomberg Future of Energy Summit in New York.
“For Scotland, these European and global challenges represent opportunity. We have just over 8% of the UK’s population; and 1% of the EU’s population. But we have 90% of the UK’s hydro capacity, 64% of the EU’s oil reserves, 25% of the EU’s offshore wind and tidal power potential and 10% of its wave power potential. And we are 100% committed.”