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IPCC Chair: Delaying Climate Action Raises the Risks and Costs

April 21, 2014

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • To avoid the worst effects of climate change, the world will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2050 and then become carbon neutral by the end of this century, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says.
  • IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri spoke at the World Bank about changes needed and the rising costs of inaction.
  • The evidence of the human role in climate change is overwhelming, while the benefits of action include creating a cleaner, better world, he said.

The world has two basic tracks for keeping greenhouse gas emissions from rising dangerously high: take steady action now to taper off emissions, or allow emissions to increase over the next 10 to 20 years and then bring them down sharply, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told a gathering at the World Bank ahead of Earth Day.

Delaying action raises the risks and the cost.

“If you allow emissions to increase, the impact of climate change will become progressively more serious, and the technologies that you would have to put in place to reduce emissions very sharply would be that much more expensive,” IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said as he gave the Robert Goodland Memorial Lecture, in honor of the World Bank’s first ecologist.

To avoid the worst effects of climate change, the world will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2050 and then become carbon neutral by 2100, the latest IPCC report says. 

That will require a range of technologies that by 2100 can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, including carbon capture and storage, a developing technology that buries carbon dioxide but carries risks, Pachauri said. The rate of improvement in energy efficiency would need to increase much more rapidly, and the share of low-carbon energy from renewable sources would have to triple or quadruple by 2050. There would be opportunities for nuclear power and for bioenergy or fossil energy, but only with carbon capture and storage.

Cost of Inaction

The challenge the world faces without action is spelled out across the report, written by 235 scientists from 39 countries, with input from 180 contributors and more than 800 experts who reviewed the reports.

Climate change is raising the risks to food security, livelihoods, and human health, not only through the increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves and extreme precipitation events but also as a result of increases in vector borne diseases whose carriers thrive under warmer conditions. The reports describe three decades of successively warmer global temperatures, sea levels that have risen on average 19 cm since 1900, and rising CO2 emissions. 

Open Quotes

If you allow emissions to increase, the impact of climate change will become progressively more serious, and the technologies that you would have to put in place to reduce emissions very sharply would be that much more expensive. Close Quotes

Rajendra Pachauri
Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

 “Since the beginning of industrialization, we have emitted larger and larger quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and even though scientists going back 150 years had told us on the basis of theoretical analysis that this could lead to a change in the earth's climate, we basically ignored it,” Pachauri said. “Now, the evidence is so overwhelming. The entire scientific community which is part of the IPCC has come up with a range of very profound findings that we cannot ignore any longer.

“What we've done in a short period of time is a major deviation from what has been a reasonably stable system for millennia.”

The cost of taking strong mitigation measures now would equate to a reduction in consumer spending globally of 1-4 percent in 2030 and 2-6 percent in 2050, compared to no action, the latest IPCC report states. But Pachauri noted that those numbers don’t factor in the co-benefits of action or the reduced costs of the impact of climate change. For example, increasing the use of public transit and raising vehicle emissions standards, in addition to reducing emissions, can reduce pollution and commute times, lowering public health costs and increasing productivity.

Due to the emissions already released, the impacts of climate change will still be felt for several decades after we start bringing down greenhouse gases, so development policies will have to combine mitigation and adaptation with specific development projects and strategies, Pachauri said.

Impact on Ocean Health

Pachauri, who heads to the Arctic in a few weeks, also touched on the impact on oceans and coastal communities. The recent IPCC reports describe changes in acidity as the oceans absorbed about 30 percent of the anthropogenic CO2, and the implications ocean warming has for circulation.

 “We know that oceans will continue to warm, and that has serious implications on marine life. It also has implications for the kind of catch you might get in parts of the world,” Pachauri said. “There already is enough evidence to show there is migration of species. Fish stock that existed in certain parts of the world are moving to other areas because of the changes that are taking place.”

This week, scientists, business leaders, government official, and activists with a stake in ocean health are meeting at the Global Oceans Action Summit to discuss ocean health, food security and measurable steps to protect fisheries and habitats.

A Call for Behavior Change

“What we need is a major change. That is becoming increasingly apparent,” Pachauri said.

Addressing climate change requires a shift from the status quo, and that will require changing behaviors, mindsets, and how we value the planet, he said. We need to work with every stakeholder group, business to government, civil society to academia, and help everyone understand that we are all in this together.

“If we can do that,” Pachauri said, “maybe we can have a cleaner, and a better world and something that we feel proud in leaving behind for the next generation.”