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UN climate change report: It’s ‘now or never’ to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees – Catholic Leader

A UN report on climate change released today warns that harmful carbon emissions have never been higher and this is proof that the world is on a “fast track” to disaster. 

In the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists argue that it’s ‘now or never’ to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, while noting that action now being taken in many countries is slowing the growth of global carbon emissions.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future,” IPCC Chair, Hoesung Lee said.

Challenging horizon: The view from a small cemetery in Trail City, South Dakota looking out over a drought-affected prairie. Photo: CNS (from 2006)

The IPCC is the most authoritative international body on climate science, and its previous findings have been endorsed by Pope Francis.

In his encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, Francis declared that the science of climate change is clear and that the Catholic Church views climate change as a moral issue that must be addressed in order to protect the Earth and everyone on it.

This latest IPCC report deals specifically with the damage that climate change is already causing, and is expected to cause into the future, what this means for communities and ecosystems, and what options there are to adapt to these changes.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres said that unless governments everywhere reassess their energy policies, the world will be uninhabitable.

People in New York City protest climate change. Photo: CNS

Human carbon pollution has already pushed the planet into unprecedented territory, ravaging ecosystems, raising sea levels and exposing millions of people to new weather extremes.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C ; without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible,” Co-Chair of IPCC, Professor Jim Skea, said.

There is no hope of stopping global warming at the Paris Agreement limits of 1.5 or 2 degrees without a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and electrifying many of the things that currently run on fossil fuels. 

That could mean up to $4 trillion worth of coal, oil and gas infrastructure could become worthless by the middle of the century, the report said.

A lone tree stands near a water trough in a paddock on the outskirts of Walgett, New South Wales, in July 2018. Many climate scientists have associated odd weather patterns and an increased number of natural disasters – such as drought – and their severity with climate change. Photo: CNS

To limit global warming to around 1.5C, the IPCC report insisted that global greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak “before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030”.

According to the United Nations-assembled panel of 278 top climate experts it is still technically possible, and even economically viable, for nations to curb carbon pollution on the scale that’s required.

However, the report’s authors write, it “cannot be achieved through incremental change”.

The nearly 3,000-page document details how coordinated efforts to scale up renewable energy sources, overhaul transportation systems, restructure cities, improve agriculture and pull carbon from the air could put the planet on a more sustainable path while improving living standards around the globe.

“Climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production,” Professor Skea said.

“This report shows how taking action now can move us towards a fairer, more sustainable world.”  

Great Barrier Reef
Warning signs: Climate change is the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs around the world. The effects of climate change, including increasing temperatures leading to coral bleaching, are already being seen on the reef.

The IPPC report contains a whole chapter on Australasia and makes clear what many Australians have seen in their day-to-day lives: climate change has already driven many extreme events in Australia with devastating impacts for communities and ecosystems. 

These include the catastrophic ‘Black Summer’ bushfires in southeast Australia, repeated bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, the loss of kelp forests, heatwaves that are killing people in cities, and droughts that are hitting Australian farming communities hard.

This report makes it clear that this is only the beginning.

For neighbours in the Pacific and even communities within Australia, such as in the Torres Strait, climate change is a truly existential challenge.

Protest: Faith in Climate Action protesters staged an anti-coal protest in Brisbane in 2020. Photo: Malcolm Paterson

The report emphasises the adverse effects climate change has had and will continue to have on people’s physical and mental health around the world. 

Repeated exposure to extreme events, like extreme heat and bushfire, is associated with decreased mental wellbeing in many ways.

Mental health impacts include loss of sense of identity and place, heightened anxiety, risk of depression and suicide along with post-traumatic stress disorder and other adverse outcomes.

Climate change also affects the poorest and most vulnerable the most, as climate risks will exacerbate vulnerabilities and social inequalities. 

The IPCC makes clear that for all the technological challenges of transforming the world’s energy supply at rapid pace, a primary obstacle to expansive action remains political.

Long-standing infrastructure and ingrained habits make it difficult for people to switch to more sustainable practices.

Policies that would curb carbon emissions get blocked by “incumbent fossil fuel interests,” researchers say.

Elected officials have largely been unwilling to choose policies they fear could cost them the next election when the benefits might not be felt for several more decades.

Care for creation: Solar panels are seen on the roof of the Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican. The 2400 solar panels on the roof were installed in 2008 thanks to the work of Bonn, Germany-based Solar World.
Photo: CNS

In response to the IPCC report, the Climate Council of Australia said that Australia had enough sun and wind to be a world leader in renewable energy, as well as in industries such as clean manufacturing, minerals processing and renewable hydrogen.

“Generations of Australians could work in these clean industries,” the council said.

“It’s time for our federal political leaders to step up and take action to rapidly decrease emissions this decade, but to also grasp the huge opportunity that climate action presents.”

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