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Latest UN climate assessment calls for urgency but seems to fall on deaf ears

29th Apr 2022
Latest UN climate assessment calls for urgency but seems to fall on deaf ears

The third instalment of the United Nation’s 6th Assessment of Climate Change, entitled “Mitigation of Climate Change,” was published earlier this month. Hundreds of scientists comprising Working Group III worked over 3 years to compile data and articulate to policymakers what is at stake if urgent action is not taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Upon its publication, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, recorded a scathing statement citing “a litany of broken promises” and warning that “we are on a fast-track to climate disaster” because, under the current pledges, temperatures will rise by 14°C.

The climate assessment report states, “Net anthropogenic GHG emissions have increased since 2010 across all major sectors globally,” referring to fluorinated gases, nitrous oxide, methane, and net CO2 from land-use change, forestry, fossil fuels and industry. Emissions between 2010 and 2019 rose by 12 percent, making 1.5–2 °C warming potentially unattainable without drastic changes. Previous reports put little stock in carbon removal technologies.

However, this one discusses innovative techniques to sequester carbon already in the atmosphere, while pointing to source reduction as a more effective means to limit warming.

The assessment also considers changing urban planning norms to curb energy demand by modifying zoning regulations to allow for more walkable cities, stating, “When measures promoting walkable urban areas are combined with electrification and clean renewable energy, there are several co-benefits to be attained. These include reduced pressures on agricultural land from reduced urban growth, health co-benefits from cleaner air and benefits from enhanced mobility.”

One of the lead authors who worked on the transportation section of the UN report, Paulina Jaramillo, stated on the Climate Pod that transportation has not seen the same levels of slowing growth as other sectors because of population growth and the fact that it is more difficult to decarbonise every car on the road, as opposed to a single power plant.

Robust charging infrastructure will allow residents in less central areas to have a place to charge their vehicles. Mixed-use areas that allow for walkability and living closer to one’s workplace will also reduce reliance on personal vehicles.

Based on current trends and attempts to grow economies now that many nations have opened up following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, nations must ramp up their transitional technology investments to stay on track with their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), particularly that of clean energy infrastructure.

To stay on track to achieve the goal of keeping warming below 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, the world would have to reach peak global emissions by 2025. This does not mean staying on a business-as-usual path for the next 2.5 years, as countries emit at different rates and have varying financial capacities for major infrastructure investments. Not all the funds that were promised by developed countries to help to develop countries cope with climate change have been disbursed.

Reports have found that “funds supported by foreign state-owned enterprises in 56 recipient countries in Asia and 38 in Africa in 2014–2017 went mostly to fossil fuel-based projects not strongly aligned with the low-carbon 39 priorities of recipient countries’ NDCs.”

The report received a mostly muted response from world leaders, who are more focused on energy prices amid the war in Ukraine. This has caused them to reassess their ongoing relationship with fossil fuels.

Leaders attempting to stop relying on Russian energy are looking to tap any energy sources to keep prices down, regardless of their Paris Agreement commitments. The rhetoric around energy independence is drowning out calls for a clean energy future. US President Joe Biden has even imposed a “use it or lose it” policy, requiring domestic oil producers to pump as much as they can or face fines.

Since the report was published, scientists around the world have staged demonstrations, calling on policymakers to act on climate change and for businesses to stop investing in dirty energy. In Los Angeles, California, four climate scientists chained themselves to the JPMorgan Chase building to protest the company’s fossil fuel investments. They were met by police in riot gear, and the severity of the response was mocked on social media.

The UN report is full of data and analysis for policymakers to make informed decisions about how to mitigate the effects of climate change. They may choose to act on such information or focus on other priorities. There are only so many warnings scientists can offer, so many years left where there will still be a window of opportunity to turn things around. Soon, the goal of keeping warming below 1.5C-2°C will be virtually unattainable.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall,
Korea Economic Institute Intern, American University’s School of International Service,
The Muslim News Environmental Columnist

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