UN Climate Panel: Phase Out Fossil Fuels ‘Almost Entirely’ by 2100

By Patrick Goodenough | November 2, 2014 | 7:11 PM EST

U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, right, are among participants at a press conference to launch the latest IPCC report, in Copenhagen, Denmark on Sunday, November 2, 2014. (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

(CNSNews.com) – For the first time, the U.N-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the use of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – will need to be “phased out almost entirely” by the end of the century.

The IPCC’s latest report, released in Copenhagen Sunday, warns of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” if action is not taken to reduce emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) globally – with a target of zero by 2100.

It declares “with greater certainty” than four other major assessments released since 1990, that human actions – “emissions of greenhouse gases and other anthropogenic drivers” – are chiefly responsible for global warming measured since the middle of the 20th century.

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans,” the report states.

Secretary of State John Kerry embraced its findings, warning that the planet cannot afford skepticism or complacency.

“We can’t prevent a large scale disaster if we don’t heed this kind of hard science,” he said in a statement. “The longer we are stuck in a debate over ideology and politics, the more the costs of inaction grow and grow.”

“Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids.”

A recent Gallup poll found that climate change was at the bottom of a list of 13 concerns that are most pressing for registered U.S. voters in Tuesday’s midterm election.

The report is a synthesis and final instalment of IPCC scientists’ “fifth assessment.” (The previous four assessments were published in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007, with each one using stronger language.)

It states that continued GHG emissions “will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of widespread and profound impacts affecting all levels of society and the natural world.”

World leaders agreed several years ago that in order to avoid potentially catastrophic effects on the planet, temperature rise must be limited to two degrees Celsius (3.6°F) above the pre-industrial period average by the end of this century. (Pre-industrial refers to around the middle of the 19th century.)

To achieve that target, this latest report says, the use of renewable, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology will need to increase from their current share of about 30 percent of the total electricity supply, to 80 percent by 2050.

And beyond that date, fossil fuel power generation without CCS technology would need to be “phased out almost entirely by 2100.”

(CCS technology, which aims to trap emissions from power plants and store them underground, has been slower to advance that proponents hoped.)

Despite the gloomy outlook the report says it is not too late to act to ensure that the impacts of climate change remain manageable, and also claims that doing so will not strongly affect global economic growth.

“There is a myth which is shared unscientifically and uneconomically that climate action will cost heavily but I am telling you that inaction of climate action will cost much, much more,” U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in Copenhagen.

“Science has spoken,” added Ban, who has prioritized the issue during his tenure. “Leaders must act; time is not on our side.”

A similar warning came from IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri.

“We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2ºC of warming closes,” he said.

“To keep a good chance of staying below 2ºC, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100. We have that opportunity, and the choice is in our hands.”

A major climate conference in Paris, France in November 2015 aims to deliver a universal agreement for the post-2020 period on reducing GHG emissions and mitigating climate change. Before then, a conference will be held in Lima, Peru next month.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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