It is “moral and economic madness” to fund new fossil fuel projects, the United Nations (UN) chief said today, as a pioneering report warned simply cutting emissions was no longer enough to curb the climate crisis.

The need to scale up the measures to remove carbon dioxide from the air are now “unavoidable” in order to meet net zero goals, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a landmark document.

The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called the climate report a “litany of broken climate promises… cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world”.

Though campaigners are regarded as radicals, the “truly dangerous radicals” are those countries increasing fossil fuel production, he said, calling for a trebled pace in the shift to renewables.

While Russia’s war against Ukraine “may reduce the media coverage” of the report in some nations, many countries are “now more aware of the multiple risks associated with dependence on fossil fuels, including energy insecurity and unaffordability as well as climate change,” Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, told Sky News.
Amid fears language on fossil fuels had been watered down, the summary warns current fossil fuel plans put the world on course for 2C warming, urges an end to all fossil fuel subsidies and new coal plants and warns oil and gas will become stranded assets in the next few decades.
Eleventh hour wrangling between nations delayed the publication of the report, which was expected on Monday morning. Sky News understands oil-rich Saudi Arabia queried some fossil fuel language and India pushed for a distinction between responsibilities for developing and developed countries – though the United States pushed back.

The need for carbon dioxide removals

The report is the strongest yet on the need for carbon dioxide removals: ways to suck carbon out of the air including technologies that store it underground or natural options like using oceans, soils and trees to soak it up.

It says we have enough space underground to store permanently all the CO2 emissions we need to limit warming to 1.5C, but globally carbon capture and storage deployment is “far below” the level needed. In 2015 the UK government cancelled £1bn of promised funding for the technology.

Campaigners fear that carbon dioxide removals distract from the need to cut emissions, but scientists have been at pains to stress that these methods are not a “get out of jail free” card for big polluters.

Prof Michael Grubb, a lead author, said they would not “ride to the rescue” of fossil fuel industries. They should only be available to offset areas where emissions reductions are likely impossible, such as like aviation and cement, he said.

There is no question we are “cooked” without drastic emissions cuts, Sir David King, former UK Government chief scientific adviser and founder of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group told Sky News.
But he said we are beginning to see a “very significant beginning of a change of tactic within the IPCC,” with more emphasis on greenhouse removals at scale.

Key points:

  • Both “rapid and deep and in most cases immediate” emissions cuts as well as greenhouse gas removals through technology and nature are essential to reach 1.5C
  • For the first time it dedicated a whole chapter to the way we can change diets, lifestyles, shopping habits and travel to reduce demand for emissions. But structural and cultural change are essential too
  • Emissions in the last decade were highest in history, though rate of growth has slowed
  • We have enough space underground to lock away all the CO2 emissions we need to from now to 2100 to keep us at 1.5C, but we aren’t deploying that technology fast enough
  • Many types of renewable energy have become increasingly cheap, viable and used
  • Countries are not matching promises with policies

Amid the bleak warnings came some reasons for hope, including the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables.
For the first time it dedicated a chapter to the lifestyle changes contributions some individuals can make by changing the way they shop and eat to reduce demand and the extreme fall in cost of renewables.

Amid the bleak warnings came some reasons for hope, including the contributions some individuals can make by changing the way they shop and eat to reduce demand and the extreme fall in cost of renewables.
“The time of reckoning is now, we have a decade to change our ways, to get on track for 1.5C,” said a lead author Prof Pete Smith, from Aberdeen University.
“It’s a lifestyle change because we use fossil fuels in everything, the way we move around, the way we eat, everything. All those things need to change.”

What are the IPCC reports?

Today’s report is a landmark event. We can continue to ignore it and deceive ourselves or we can wake up and radically change our lifestyles.

The reports are issued every six to seven years, and the one focusing on mitigation, like today’s, is often the most contentious because it concerns what leaders and businesses must do.

Mitigation refers to the ways leaders and citizens can reduce emissions of climate heating pollution, including phasing out fossil fuels, ramping up clean energy, tree-planting and emerging technology to suck emissions out of the air and store it underground.

Hundreds of scientists compiled the report from thousands of studies over seven years, before the summary was scrutinised by 195 governments and finally signed off today. While the language of such reports has become more emphatic as evidence mounts, the consensual nature of the process means the strongest warnings could have been tempered.

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