Russia’s invasion into Ukraine coincided with the release of two sweeping assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the perilous state of our planet’s health. Desperately warning of the need to get off fossil fuels, as the body starts hammering out a synthesis report, lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum reflects on how Europe’s desperate attempts to find alternative fossil fuel sources may end up turbo-charging climate chaos.
We are not doomed
Despite mega-fires, mega droughts, mega catastrophes and the fear of global war, we need to remember that the science says we are not doomed!
Over-shadowed by Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, earlier this year the IPCC released two detailed assessments on how well we’re doing at slowing the rate of climate change. Spoiler alert: not so well.
The first of these, focusing on adaptation measures, was released at the end of February. A second report, released in early April, analysed the pathways and tools we have to avoid locking in catastrophic mid-century global heating.
Set to be followed by a Synthesis Report now scheduled for publication early next year, the body of scientist authors – something of a collective culmination of thousands of years of human wisdom – one can summarize their findings thusly:
- Global scientists are emphatically warning that our behaviors and economic systems are leading us toward ever-more likely catastrophe.
- Despite the terrifying data, our shared societal demise is not locked in – we are not at this point doomed to experience unlivable global warming.
- If we change course now, then we have a multitude of relatively safe pathways to avoid climate chaos, agricultural collapse, and a host of other horrors.
But “the science is unequivocal – any further delay will miss the brief window we have to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” wrote Professor Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the first of these reports.
Who are the dangerous radicals?
February’s IPCC report clearly warned that our current development trends “are leading away from, rather than toward, sustainable development.” And April’s message was as shrill as an air raid siren: “It’s now or never if we want to limit global warming to 1.5C,” said Professor Jim Skea, co-chair of the working group behind this release.
“Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”
Decisive steps must be taken by the end of this decade if we are to avoid locking in the worst effects of climate change. At a minimum, this means phasing out all coal-fired power in European and OECD nations no later than 2030. Followed by the shuttering nearly all coal-fired plants worldwide by 2040.
This needs to be coupled with the “decommissioning and reduced utilisation of existing fossil fuel installations in the power sector as well as cancellation of new installations” if we are to avoid dangerous heating, drought, widespread fires, and potential agricultural collapse in the next few decades.
Given the clear science, anything approaching business as usual is a step in the wrong direction.
“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres in response to the April report.
The tools we need
In the hundred plus days since Russian troops poured into Ukraine, regardless of global outrage over the war that’s followed, purchases of Russian coal, oil and fossil gas – the sales of which are contributing to funding Putin’s war machine, have barely slowed.
At the press conference introducing the February report, Dr Svitlana Krakovska, head of Ukraine’s IPCC delegation, emphatically stated that “human-induced climate change and war against Ukraine have direct connections and the same roots. They are fossil fuels and humanity’s dependence on them.”
Without spelling it out so absolutely, the IPCC’s findings show that many of the solutions to both climate change and stopping Putin’s war machine are the same: ending our dependence on fossil fuels.
Even better, that success is not predicated on us having to quickly prove out and scale up various still emerging technologies like green hydrogen or unproven carbon capture and sequestration.
Just the opposite, the April report unequivocally states that we already have multiple tools at hand to bring down emissions and substitute fossil fuels, namely a robust, immediate and widespread wind and solar and renewable energy deployment.
Even better, the plummeting costs of these technologies, particularly in combination with emerging battery and storage options, make them far more cost effective than panic shopped fossil fuels.
Since 2012, the costs of solar, wind and lithium-ion batteries have dropped some 85 percent.
In much of the world, the IPCC and other studies find that solar power is cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels and increasingly, it is below the cost of continuing to operate existing coal or gas power plants. Similarly electricity from onshore wind is cheaper than from fossil fuels “in a growing number of markets”.
And that was before the recent massive spike in energy costs.
Inspiring data from the most recent Global Electricity Review 2022 published by energy and climate think tank Ember reflected this, revealing that wind and solar are now the fastest growing sources of electricity. Collectively generating a record ten percent of global electricity, they have more than doubled their global share since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.
Warning to the future
The latest publications by the IPCC represent the last major rounds of climate science set to be released in this crucial decade before 2030. As we evaluate the entire cycle of IPCC data against the backdrop of the on-going horror in Ukraine, clearly our need to stop burning coal and relying on fossil fuels has never been more urgent.
The scientific and economic evidence is overwhelmingly clear: these are no longer questions of technology, economics or necessity but simply a matter of political will.
Though “emissions of greenhouse gases have changed the energy balance of the planet, the ease of receiving energy from burning coal, oil and gas has changed the balance of power in the human world,” continued Ukrainian IPCC scientist Krakovska back in February. But since “we cannot change laws of the physical world, it is our responsibility to change laws of human civilization towards a climate resilient future.”