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UN Climate Change Panel Issues Wake-Up Call On Emissions
April 14, 2014
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(Photo: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the last in a series of three big reports, and here's the sobering conclusion: it's going to take intensive action by governments around the world over the next couple of decades to avoid catastrophe. 

“We cannot afford to lose another decade,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of the committee responsible for the report. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

The report was released at the end of a five-day summit that took place in Berlin from April 7-11, and its focus is on how to mitigate climate change, assessing current actions and suggesting others. 

According to the report, carbon dioxide emissions must decrease by 40 to 70 per cent by 2050 in order to keep the worldwide temperature increase below two degrees C, the number set as the target in UN climate talks. The report found that reaching these levels is possible — but that it will take profound institutional change in private and public sectors in countries around the world.  

"There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual," said Edenhofer

The report concludes that adhering to these numbers could mean a decrease in economic activity by as much as 0.06 per cent per year. But that doesn't take into consideration any possible economic benefits of reducing greenhouse gasses, such as using alternative fuel sources, the report says.

“The core task of climate change mitigation is decoupling greenhouse gas emissions from the growth of economies and population,” said Youba Sokona, another co-author of the report. “Through providing energy access and reducing local air pollution, many mitigation measures can contribute to sustainable development.”

That means both developed and developing countries need to pitch in — despite tensions between those two groups that were reportedly evident throughout the talks. Representatives from developing countries expressed worry about having to contribute more than they can handle, while representatives from developed countries worried about having to subsidize developing countries to meet the new targets. Despite some disagreements, the consensus was that the situation remains dire.  

“Climate change is a global commons problem,” said Edenhofer. “International cooperation is key for achieving mitigation goals. Putting in place the international institutions needed for cooperation is a challenge in itself.”

This most recent report was a follow-up to two previous summaries of the research: the first looked at the evidence that humans were contributing to climate change and the second examined the impacts that climate change could have on the world.

For more information on this report and its implications, check out this explainer from The Atlantic

And if you're a climate keener, you can watch the entire press conference here:

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