by Eugene N Nforngwa
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the world’s leading authority on climate science. It produces comprehensive assessment reports every six to seven years that summarize the latest knowledge and evidence on the causes, impacts and solutions of climate change.
The sixth assessment report (AR6) consists of four parts: the physical science basis, the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, the mitigation of climate change, and the synthesis report. The synthesis report is the final and most important part, as it integrates the key findings of the previous parts and provides policy-relevant guidance for decision-makers.
The AR6 synthesis report was released in March 2023, ahead of the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which takes place in Dubai in November 2023. The report has been widely seen as a wake-up call for urgent and ambitious action to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as agreed in the Paris Agreement of 2015.
One of the main messages of the report is that fossil fuels must be phased out rapidly and replaced by renewable energy sources if we want to avoid catastrophic climate consequences. Here are some of the key points from the report on this topic:
- Fossil fuels are responsible for most of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. According to the report, fossil fuel combustion accounted for 86% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human activities between 2010 and 2019. Fossil fuels also contribute to other pollutants such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), black carbon and ozone that have warming effects or harm human health.
- Fossil fuel use must decline sharply to meet the 1.5°C goal. The report presents various scenarios that show how different levels of emissions reduction can affect global warming by 2100. To have a likely chance (>66%) of limiting warming to 1.5°C, CO2 emissions need to reach net zero by around 2050, which implies a reduction of about 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. This means that fossil fuel use must decline by about 6% per year until mid-century, with coal being phased out first, followed by oil and gas.
- Renewable energy can provide most of global energy demand by mid-century. The report shows that renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectricity and bioenergy can supply more than two-thirds of total primary energy demand by 2050 under a low-emissions scenario compatible with 1.5°C. This would require a massive increase in renewable energy capacity and investment, as well as improvements in energy efficiency, storage and transmission.
- Renewable energy has multiple benefits for society and nature. The report highlights that shifting to renewable energy can bring many co-benefits such as reducing air pollution, enhancing energy security, creating jobs, alleviating poverty and improving health outcomes. Moreover, renewable energy can help preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services by reducing land use change, water stress and ocean acidification caused by fossil fuels.
- Renewable energy transition requires policy support and international cooperation. The report acknowledges that there are many barriers and challenges to achieving a rapid and equitable transition to renewable energy, such as technological limitations, economic costs, social acceptance, political resistance and geopolitical tensions.
Therefore, the report calls for strong policy support and international cooperation to enable and accelerate the renewable energy transition, such as carbon pricing, subsidy reform, regulatory frameworks, innovation incentives, capacity building, technology transfer and financial assistance.
In conclusion, the IPCC AR6 synthesis report makes it clear that fossil fuels must be replaced by renewable energy sources as soon as possible if we want to avoid dangerous climate change. The report also shows that renewable energy can provide multiple benefits for society and nature while meeting global energy demand. However, the report warns that achieving this transition requires unprecedented political will and collective action at all levels. The COP28 summit will be an opportunity for world leaders to demonstrate their commitment and ambition towards this goal.
Eugene N Nforngwa is the Director of Programs at the Arica Coalition for Sustainable Energy and Access