Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards according to a UN report, which concludes that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable.
“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team.
The cheapest and least risky route to dealing with global warming is to abandon all dirty fossil fuels in coming decades, the report found. Gas – including that from the global fracking boom – could be important during the transition, Edenhofer said, but only if it replaced coal burning.
The authoritative report, produced by 1,250 international experts and approved by 194 governments, dismisses fears that slashing carbon emissions would wreck the world economy. It is the final part of a trilogy that has already shown that climate change is “unequivocally” caused by humans and that, unchecked, it poses a grave threat to people and could lead to wars and mass migration.
Diverting hundred of billions of dollars from fossil fuels into renewable energy and cutting energy waste would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%, the IPCC report concluded.
“The report is clear: the more you wait, the more it will cost
The UK’s energy and climate secretary, Ed Davey, said: “The [report shows] the tools we need to tackle climate change are available, but international efforts need to significantly increase.”
The IPCC economic analysis did not include the benefits of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which could outweigh the costs. The benefits include reducing air pollution, which plagues China and recently hit the UK, and improved energy security, which is currently at risk in eastern Europe due to the actions of Russia – a large producer of gas – in Ukraine.
The new IPCC report warns that carbon emissions have soared in the last decade and are now growing at almost double the previous rate. But its comprehensive analysis found rapid action can still limit global warming to 2C, the internationally agreed safe limit, if low-carbon energy triples or quadruples by 2050.
“It is actually affordable to do it and people are not going to have to sacrifice their aspirations about improved standards of living,” said Professor Jim Skea, an energy expert at Imperial College London and co-chair of the IPCC report team. “It is not a hair shirt change of lifestyle at all that is being envisaged and there is space for poorer countries to develop too,” Skea told the Guardian.
Along with measures that cut energy waste, renewable energy – such as wind, hydropower and solar – is viewed most favourably by the report as a result of its falling costs and large-scale deployment in recent years.
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