World must aim to be fully decarbonised by 2050
22nd April 2015
Leading scientists have issued a statement as part of Earth Day 2015, highlighting the importance of action on climate change ahead of a UN conference later this year.
Today is Earth Day – an event coordinated globally as a way of honouring the Earth and demonstrating support for environmental protection. Held on 22nd April each year since 1970, it is now celebrated in 192 countries worldwide.
To coincide with Earth Day, a group of prominent scientists have issued a statement on behalf of the Earth League – an international alliance of world‐class research institutions, working to highlight some of the most pressing issues faced by humankind, as a result of climate change, depletion of natural resources, land degradation and water scarcity.
Bold action by decision-makers is required now, they claim, to pave the way for a successful agreement on carbon emissions at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21), being held in Paris later this year. It is critically important to avoid a repeat of the disastrous Copenhagen summit of 2009.
Written by 17 world-leading scientists, the Earth Statement clarifies – in eight essential points – what the international agreement in Paris must aim to achieve to avoid dangerous tipping points of climate change. The first essential point is a commitment to limit global warming to below 2° Celsius, requiring a transition to zero-carbon societies by mid-century.
Johan Rockström, Chair of the Earth League and board member of the Global Challenges Foundation: “The window of opportunity is closing fast. We are on a trajectory that will leave our world irrevocably changed, far exceeding the 2°C mark. This gamble risks disaster for humanity with unmanageable sea-level rise, heat waves, droughts and floods. We would never consider this level of risk in any other walk of life – yet we seem prepared to take this risk with our planet. Conversely, the scientific evidence shows that we can create a positive future, but only with bold action now.”
“The science, the economics and the moral imperative to protect our planet all demand this action. We are calling on policy-makers to show real leadership and commit the planet to a sustainable future,” continued Rockström.
The Earth Statement warns of tipping points – thresholds in the Earth system that are difficult to reverse once crossed. It highlights recent research suggesting dramatic ice melt in parts of Antarctica may be irreversible, which provides evidence that societies need to take a precautionary approach to significantly altering the global climate.
“COP21 is the moment of truth: the last chance to stay within the 2° Celsius upper limit,” says Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and an author of the Earth Statement. “The key to success is deep decarbonisation by mid-century. Our studies show that this can be accomplished, at modest cost, and with a significant improvement in the quality of life. Success will require a shared global vision, strong national commitments, and global cooperation on technology pathways.”
The eight essential points of action are:
Governments must put into practice their commitment to limit global warming below 2° Celsius in order to limit unprecedented climate impact risks.
The agreement must be based on the remaining global carbon budget – the limit of what we can still emit in the future – which must be well below 1,000 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide, to have a reasonable chance of holding the 2° Celsius line.
In the agreement, countries must commit to deep decarbonisation, starting immediately and leading to a zero-carbon society by 2050 or shortly thereafter. This will require a fundamental transformation of the economy.
Equity is critical. Every country must formulate an emissions pathway consistent with deep decarbonisation. For the sake of fairness, rich countries and progressive industries can and should take the lead and decarbonise well before mid-century.
Targeted research, development, demonstration and diffusion (RDD&D) of low-carbon energy systems and sustainable land use are prerequisites to unleash a wave of climate innovation.
The agreement should provide the starting point for a global strategy to reduce vulnerability, build resilience and deal with loss and damage of communities from climate impacts, including collective action and scaled-up support.
Countries must agree to safeguard carbon sinks and vital ecosystems, such as forests, which is as important for climate protection as the reduction of emissions.
Governments must urgently realise new scales and sources of climate finance for developing countries to enable our rapid transition to zero-carbon, climate-resilient societies.
Rockström and John Schellnhuber, fellow Earth League member and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, will present the Earth Statement at the 4th Nobel Laureates Symposium on Global Sustainability in Hong Kong on Thursday 23 April. This will mark the beginning of outreach to leading decision-makers and thinkers.