IPCC report completes scientific jigsaw puzzle

Report lays out options and puts onus on governments to act

Feature story - 4 May, 2007
Renewable energy and energy efficiency are vital. The next two decades are crucial. Changing our energy use is less costly than changing our climate. These are findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report "Mitigating Climate Change", released today.

SolarGeneration youth at a Buddhist temple in the small coastal village of Khun Samutchine, the first community in Thailand to suffer the direct impacts of coastal erosion caused largely by storm surges brought about by climate change. The temple, now beside the eroded coastline, was once located several kilometers from the beach.

Earlier this year, the IPCC issued their strongest warning yet on climate change and detailed the possible consequences if we fail to act.  The latest IPCC report reviews what we can do to reduce our global warming emissions, keeping global warming from becoming catastrophic.  

"With the final piece of the jigsaw in place the picture of our options for the future is now in sharp focus," said Stephanie Tunmore, Greenpeace International climate and energy campaigner in Bangkok. "It is quite clear that immediate action to cut greenhouse gas emissions is required. The longer the delay, the higher the temperature increase and the greater the impacts; further procrastination could have a devastating effect on the lives of billions of people across the world".

Nuclear problem

According to the IPCC, nuclear power accounted for 16 percent of the electricity supply in 2005 and could have an 18 percent share of the total electricity supply in 2030, but "...safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints."

What's more, other research shows we can reduce carbon emissions much more cheaply and effectively using renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.  Dollar for dollar, investing in energy efficiency is seven times more cost effective at reducing CO2 emissions then investing in nuclear power.

Even if it were safe or economical, it's also clear that nuclear power capacity cannot be built rapidly enough to be much help. The average construction time for nuclear plant completions 1995 - 2000 was 116 months (nearly 10 years).  As a contrasting example, the first offshore wind farm in the UK took only eight months to build.

All this makes the dangers of nuclear power a moot point.

Costs of climate change vs. costs of an energy [r]evolution

The projected costs of climate protection measures are far outweighed by the costs of escalating climate impacts under business-as-usual.

According to the report stabilization between 450 and 550 ppm would cost from 0.2 percent to less than 3 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030, or less than 0.1 percent per year.

Figures for the cost of business-as-usual with no action are not given by the IPCC, but according to the UK Government's Stern report (October 2006) it could be 5-10 percent of global GDP and under the worst case scenario it could rise to as much as 20 percent.

According to Sven Teske, Greenpeace International climate and energy campaigner, "Our own global energy concept means that the investment volume for new power plants until 2030 will be in a range of 300-350 billion dollars per year - almost equal to the amount of money currently spent on subsidies for fossil fuels. To shift this money, and invest in renewable energy and cogeneration could cut CO2 emission of the global power sector by half by 2030, which is a win-win situation for utilities around the world".

But will governments and politicians listen?

At the start of the Bangkok meeting IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri was asked how the organization would make governments listen to the report findings.  In reply he pointed out, "The IPCC doesn't have any muscle, it has grey matter. The muscle will have to come from somewhere else."

That's why millions around the world are already mobilizing.  They're lobbying politicians, changing what they buy and making smart energy choices.  

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