The landmark UN report shows the affordable paths to averting a global climate catastrophe: now politicians must decide the route and who pays the fare
If you are embarking on a long and essential journey, it really pays to book early. That is the key message from Sunday's landmark UN report that sets out the route to averting catastrophic climate change.
By starting right now to end the era of dirty fossil fuels and create a new world of clean energy, not only do you ensure you arrive at your destination – a safer world – but you also get the cheapest ticket. The report's message was as clear as a travel agent's advertisement: buy now or pay a premium later.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's chair, Rajendra Pachauri, drew on his early years as a railway engineer to drive the point home: “The high speed [carbon-cutting] train will leave very soon and all of the global community will have to be on board.”
But his IPCC colleague, Youba Sokona, a scientist from Mali and one of the trio who led the new report, was clear about the limits of the new plan: “We are the mapmakers: the [powerful] are the navigators.” He said the report is “telling truth to power”: the question now is whether the powerful want to listen.
The IPCC report sets out multiple possible routes. Some, based on renewable energy and cutting energy waste, are low-risk and comfortable, rather like a fast electric train. Other more circuitous routes, such as delaying action and then beingforced to suck carbon out of the air later, look more like a four-wheeled drive over a mountain range.
The IPCC has put a definitive map on the table and shown that the price of climate action is affordable. But the hardest choices remain in the hands of the powerful: which route to take and, even more difficult, who pays for the ticket.
The statements deleted from the final report summary, which is aimed directly at policymakers, reveal the political battles ahead. All mentions of transferring hundreds of billions of dollars a year from rich to poor nations to pay for going green were excised. Even the simple statement that 70% of all emissions come from just 10 big nations – think China and the US – was deemed too much like naming and shaming.
Nonetheless, many stark messages remain: all dirty fossil fuel use will have to end in the coming decades; huge stocks of coal, oil and gas will have to remain in the ground; countries and companies relying on fossil fuels may suffer big financial losses.
Choosing the route away from civilisation's looming climate car crash now falls to the world's leaders, with a deadline of December 2015 in Paris for a global deal. But they can no longer claim they don't know the way or can't afford the fare. As US secretary of state John Kerry put it on Sunday: “This report makes very clear we face an issue of global willpower, not capacity.” More