UN Climate Report: Averting Global Warming Disaster Is Affordable

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 13 2014 11:01 AM

UN Climate Report: Averting Global Warming Disaster Is Affordable

Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra Pachauri (R) and Ottmar Edenhofer, co-Chair of the IPCC Working Group III (L) pose with a copy of the report Climate Change 2014, Mitigation of Climate Change during a news conference in Berlin on Sunday

Photo by JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations has released its long-awaited report on what can be done to prevent climate change and it includes one depressing conclusion after another. The report, which was produced by 1,250 international experts and approved by 194 governments, says the amount of greenhouse gases around the world reached “unprecedented levels” in the decade ending in 2010. The numbers give a clear indication “that government policies aimed at reducing carbons and staving off warming are failing,” reports the Washington Post.

Countries have avoided making concessions for so long that the situation is now critical and if the entire world doesn’t get its act in gear over the next 15 years “potentially disastrous climatic changes later in the century” will become unavoidable, notes the New York Times. If no new action is taken, global surface temperature increases will clock in at between 3.7 and 4.8 degrees Celsius—almost double the 2-degree level that countries had agreed is the limit before dangerous effects will be felt, reports the BBC. To stick to that goal, global greenhouse gas emissions have to decline by 40 to 70 percent by mid-century, compared to 2010, points out CNN.


Still, amid all the imminent-disaster talk there is some room for guarded optimism. It’s still technically possible to avert catastrophe but in order to do that low-carbon energy has to triple or quadruple by 2050. That implies “an energy revolution ending centuries of dominance by fossil fuels and which will require major political and commercial change,” notes the Guardian. It sounds daunting but making the switch is more affordable than many seem to think. Making a major switch to renewable energy would decrease expected annual economic growth rates by a mere 0.06 percent. And that estimate does not calculate the economic benefit of cutting emissions, which could very well be higher than the costs. In fact, societies would likely be 5 percent poorer if nothing is done to protect the climate, notes the Times.

“Climate policy isn't a free lunch but could be lunch [that's] worthwhile to buy,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, one of three co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change working group, according to the Wall Street Journal. And it’s a lunch that is also becoming cheaper to buy. One of the most optimistic parts of the report notes that the costs of renewable energy have been on a steep decline in recent years, making its widespread deployment much more affordable than in the past.   

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.



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