In a landmark report released April 13, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that abandoning fossil fuel-generated energy in favor of cleaner resources would have minimal impact on the global economy. If the world's multibillion dollar investments in fossil fuels are diverted to renewable energy, it would shave just 0.06 percent off expected global growth rates yet severely limit the number of carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
Although fossil fuel-generated energy has long been regarded as the inexpensive energy solution, the United Nations says abandoning the dirty energy supply is actually the cheapest and least risky route to dealing with climate change.
In fact, the report, produced by 1,250 international experts and approved by 195 governments, warns that waiting to implement carbon-reduction initiatives will only increase costs. The IPCC has called for international coordination so the world can work together to address these challenges now.
According to the study, rapid action is needed to mitigate global warming to safe levels. Although most nations have agreed to limit global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius, the IPCC says carbon emissions in the last decade have risen 2.2 percent annually — double the previous rate of 1.3 percent from 1970 to 2000.
The report is clear: If the world doesn't get these emissions under control, global temperatures could spiral to unsafe levels. The IPCC says emissions need to be cut by 40 to 70 percent by 2050 and almost entirely by century's end. If cut at a high rate, models indicate warming could be limited to just 1 to 2.2 degrees Celsius by 2050. However, at the current rate of emissions, global temperatures will likely rise 2 to 3.2 degrees Celsius by mid-century.
Scientists warn that if global temperatures rise too much, it could be catastrophic. Precipitation patterns will change, causing severe droughts in some areas and frequent flooding in others. Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, will become more intense. Coastal communities could disappear and food supplies could diminish is some areas.
In the report, the IPCC recommends at least tripling the amount of energy generated from zero-carbon resources while phasing out dependency on fossil fuel-generated energy, though it also offers suggestions such as planting forests and improving energy-efficiency as ways countries can help mitigate the risk of global climate change.
This report comes on the tail of two other IPCC studies that found that human activity is undoubtedly the cause for climate change and, if left unchecked, it could lead to myriad problems for the Earth's residents, including disruption to the food supply and mass migrations.