Window closing on 'livable and sustainable future for all'

Scientists urge further cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 to meet Paris goals

UN panel warns that despite 2015 pledge to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, current and planned future use of fossil fuels makes over 2 degree rise more likely

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

A volunteer is engulfed in smoke while using a tree branch to try to stop a wildfire in Gouveia, in the Serra da Estrela mountain range in Portugal, August 18, 2022. Authorities in Portugal said they had brought under control a wildfire that for almost two weeks raced through pine forests in the Serra da Estrela national park, but later in the day a new fire started and threatened Gouveia. (AP Photo/Joao Henriques)
A volunteer is engulfed in smoke while using a tree branch to try to stop a wildfire in Gouveia, in the Serra da Estrela mountain range in Portugal, August 18, 2022. Authorities in Portugal said they had brought under control a wildfire that for almost two weeks raced through pine forests in the Serra da Estrela national park, but later in the day a new fire started and threatened Gouveia. (AP Photo/Joao Henriques)

The world must slash 60 percent of greenhouse gases by 2035, relative to a 2019 baseline in order to keep temperatures from rising below the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) maximum agreed to in 2015 by countries in Paris, a top United Nations panel of scientists said Monday.

“The pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are insufficient to tackle climate change,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its Sixth Assessment Synthesis Report, the final document of the Panel’s Sixth Assessment.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a ban on new coal and for eliminating its use in rich countries by 2030 and in poor countries by 2040.

The UN science panel’s recommendation for the world to slash 60% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, compared with 2019, introduced a new target not previously mentioned in the six reports it has issued since 2018.

“The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts for thousands of years,” the document said, calling climate change “a threat to human well-being and planetary health,” and warning that “there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since humanity started burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale during the 19th century.

Illustrative. The effects of drought. (piyaset, October 18, 2019, iStock by Getty Images)

The report said that if the planet continued along its current and planned fossil fuel path, temperature rises would breach 2 degrees Celsius.

That forecast did not take into account worldwide moves that will have increased fossil fuel use since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Middle East and North Africa region is considered a climate hotspot.

Climate activists protest against offshore drilling, at the beach in Tel Aviv, on August 13, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

In Israel, temperatures rose by around 1.4 degrees Celsius between 1950 and 2017, with most of the increases happening over the past 30 years, according to Prof. Yoav Yair, dean of the School of Sustainability at Reichman University in Herzliya.

Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman said the new IPCC report underlined the need for Israel to enact a climate law anchoring emissions targets. Coalition agreements specify cutting emissions in half by 2030.

Israel, however, is lagging behind, when it comes to its commitments, having promised to generate 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with interim targets that included hitting 10% by 2020.

Minister of Environmental Protection Idit Silman speaks at an Energy Conference in Tel Aviv, March 13, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Only 9.2% of electricity was green by the end of last year, according to a report to the Knesset Economy Committee in January.

Noga Kronfeld-Shor, the Environmental Protection Ministry’s chief scientist, said it would be difficult not to pass the 2-degree Celsius threshold.

“Dealing with climate change requires the mobilization and cooperation of all sectors, political commitment, financing, the development of new and environmentally friendly technologies and capabilities, and a profound change in conduct from the individual level to the level of governments, including international collaborations,” she said. “Such a change will only be made through broad mobilization through education, and the use of regulatory and economic tools, and now is the time to do so.”

Environmental Protection Ministry Chief Scientist Prof Noga Kronfeld-Shor (left) and former environmental protection minister Tamar Zandberg at a session on climate change preparedness at the Israeli pavilion, UN COP27 climate conference, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 17, 2022.

The environmental advocacy organization, Adam Teva V’Din, said that Israel was currently marching in the wrong direction, failing to prepare for climate change or to cut air pollution that was responsible for thousands of deaths each year.

While a climate law remained on paper, the current government was more focused on weakening the Environmental Protection Ministry, the organization charged.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel called on the government to agree to halve emissions by 2030; to immediately freeze the fourth tender for fossil fuel gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea; to accelerate the installation of renewable energy infrastructure, particularly in built-up areas; and to ensure that at least 30% of habitats on land and at sea were protected by the end of the decade.

In this drone image, a residential swimming pool hangs on a cliffside after a landslide in San Clemente, California, on March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Among the findings of the IPCC report:

  • Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years
  • Sea level rises have also gathered speed, from an average rate of 1.3 millimeters (0.05 inches) per year between 1901 and 1971 to 3.7 millimeters (0.15 inches) from 2006 to 2018
  • With increased warming, tropical cyclones will intensify, as will aridity and fire weather, and extreme sea level events which currently happen once in a century will occur at least annually in more than half of all water level monitoring stations by 2100
  • Some 3.3 to 3.6 billion people are now highly vulnerable to climate change, with economically and socially marginalized urban residents suffering  disproportionately from the effects of climate change
  • Hundreds of species have been lost and some climate-driven damage  to ecosystems is approaching irreversibility, for example as Arctic permafrost thaws
  • Ocean warming and ocean acidification have already damaged fisheries and shellfish aquaculture
  • Climate-related diseases have increased
  • Climate and weather extremes are increasingly driving displacement in Africa, Asia, North America, and Central and South America

The report also contained some good news, noting progress in measures to cope with climate change across all sectors and regions. These included crop improvements, farm water management and storage, soil moisture conservation, irrigation, sustainable land management, urban greening, restoration of wetlands and forest ecosystems to reduce flood risks and urban heat, early warning systems, and social safety nets.

People walk through floodwaters after heavy rainfall in Hadeja, Nigeria, September 19, 2022. (AP Photo, File)

But it said key barriers remain, among them a lack of political commitment, inadequate financing, poor climate literacy, lack of any sense of urgency, and big gaps between the developed and developing world, with the latter disproportionately suffering from the carbon-driven policies of the former.

The IPCC publishes comprehensive scientific assessments every six to seven years. The previous one, the Fifth Assessment Report, was completed in 2014 and provided the main scientific input to the Paris Agreement.

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