Scientists say climate solutions like solar power and walkable cities are cheap, feasible and can make a dent in the crisis
Human activities release heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere. This has caused global temperatures to rise by 1.1 degrees Celsius over the past 170 years, and the planet is on track to warm about another 2 degrees by the end of the century, putting catastrophically the physical health of humans, our food and water supply, the availability of safe places to live and the survival of animal species.
However, there is still time to change our habits. This is the subject of the new report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN, written by hundreds of scientists from around the world.
“As long as you want to keep temperatures below about 3 degrees, we needed to peak emissions immediately, as soon as possible ideally five to 10 years ago and no later than 2025,” said Edward Byers. , an energy and climate researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and lead author of the report, told Insider.
If global emissions of heat-trapping gases peak by 2025, drop to half their current level by 2030, and drop to zero by 2050, there’s a chance the planet won’t warm up at all. above 1.5 degrees. In nearly 3,000 pages, the report presents a playbook for meeting this ambitious schedule.
Many measures in the IPCC Roadmap are cheap, quick and achievable with current technology. Some, like improving public transit systems, provide additional benefits, like creating new jobs and addressing socio-economic inequality.
“The global benefits of climate action outweigh the cost,” Stephanie Roe, lead author of the report and climatologist at the World Wildlife Fund, told Insider.
“It’s still possible,” Byers said.
Here are five simple climate actions that governments and businesses of all sizes can take on now.
Renovating cities for electrified transit, cycling and walking
Cities and urban areas account for two-thirds of all global emissions, according to the new IPCC report. Redesigning urban transport could reduce around a quarter of these emissions by 2050.
That means building housing close to places of work, so residents have short commutes, and designing streets that encourage biking, walking, or shared transit instead of driving personal vehicles. The IPCC also recommends running public buses, trams and other public transport vehicles on electricity rather than kerosene.
The report found that these measures would ultimately save money. They would also likely improve local air quality.
Ditch fossil fuels for solar and wind power
Electric buses and trains won’t reduce emissions much if their power comes from coal-fired power plants. Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas release a lot of carbon dioxide and methane when we burn them for energy.
For this reason, the energy sector is a much larger greenhouse gas polluter than sectors such as agriculture or transport. In 2019, energy providers produced around 34% of all man-made emissions globally, according to the IPCC report.
Central message from climatologists: we must stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible.
Every path to limiting warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees requires virtual elimination of fossil fuel use by the 2050s, Byers said.
The good news is that wind turbines and solar panels have become much cheaper to install and operate over the past decade. Renewable energies are now often in competition with fossil fuels. Governments, businesses and households should get their energy from wind and solar farms whenever possible, the report recommends.
“Renewables can be produced quickly and very cheaply these days,” Byers said, adding, “The power industry has come a long way in this area.”
Reduce methane emissions by sealing leaks
Nearly a fifth of all energy sector emissions are methane, a potent gas with 30 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide.
Most of this methane comes from “fugitive emissions,” that is, leaks from fossil fuel transportation and processing facilities. An analysis of satellite images from 2019 and 2020 revealed more than 1,800 methane plumes along gas pipelines around the world. In total, according to the study, the emissions from these leaks were comparable to 20 million additional vehicles on the road for a year.
Because the gas has such a powerful heating effect in the atmosphere, a drop in methane emissions can help rapidly reduce the rate of global warming. Fixing gas leaks would also likely save energy companies money.
“I think it’s a very easy-to-grasp fruit that can be easily processed,” Roe said.
Methane also comes from livestock and waste treatment facilities, as cows burp and garbage decomposes. Landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the United States, and food waste is the largest category of trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Department of Agriculture estimates that 30-40% of the US food supply is wasted.
Wasting less food would mean less methane emissions at landfill and could also reduce emissions upstream of food production. Using food that previously would have been wasted could allow us to produce less of it, which would mean fewer emissions from fertilizers, agricultural machinery and food processing.
It is a lifestyle change that individuals and families can make in developed countries. According to the IPCC report, 61% of global food waste came from households in 2019.
“It’s a simple way to increase efficiency and reduce your own costs as a consumer, reduce costs in the supply chain and make a big, big difference in terms of reducing emissions, but also limiting and reducing pressure on the land”, says Roé.
Protect forests and grow more
Trees thrive by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in their tissues. This is why forests can be a powerful tool to slow down global warming.
The IPCC report calls for protecting the world’s forests from deforestation or the death of trees due to climate change, fires or humans cutting them down. It also evokes reforestation, that is to say the planting of new trees where there are none.
“Reforestation is something that can be deployed today,” Byers said.
Growing trees takes time, he added, but “it can be done in any country in the world”.
During this decade, the IPCC plan could cost $100 or less for every ton of carbon dioxide emissions it prevents. More than half of these mitigation strategies cost just $20 or less per ton, the report estimates. Many of them would end up saving money.
But relying on a single solution is not enough.
“There is no magic bullet. We have to do everything,” Roe said.