Last month the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its findings in a landmark report on the impacts of climate change in a 1.5°C warmer world as opposed to 2°C warmer relative to pre-industrial times (before 1850). The report is an exercise to assess the goals agreed upon at the COP21 conference in Paris to keep the global average temperature rise this century well below 2°C. A key focus was to outline the efforts that would be required to accomplish this incredible feat and the associated economic costs. The report bluntly states that nothing less than a complete transition from fossil-fuels to clean renewable energy worldwide is needed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to zero .
Having analysed more than 6,000 scientific studies, 91 scientists from across the globe concluded that climate change is already having significant and widespread impacts on all forms of life on Earth. The planet has already warmed about 1°C since pre-industrial levels and is gaining about 0.2°C every decade . There is enough scientific evidence now to show that rising temperatures are causing an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods and extreme weather events around the world.
Such climate-related disasters incur huge costs on international economies every year.
In 2017 alone, US witnessed three major hurricanes - Harvey, Maria and Irma which cost the tax payers a whopping US$280 billion [2,3]. Same year Super Typhoon Hato that struck China and Hong Kong coasts raked up an estimated US $6.4 Billion in economic losses [4,5,6]. The recent unprecedented flooding in Kerala caused extensive damage to crops and infrastructure to the tune of US$4 billion. While these numbers seem unfathomable, the IPCC report projects that by 2100 the total cost will be nearly $54 trillion dollars in global damages in the 1.5°C scenario and $69 trillion in the 2°C scenario .
The IPCC report is especially significant as for the first time ever a UN report put a price tag on climate change. These calculations are not limited to the cost of damages done to the environment and the various ecosystems but also include costs of the widespread adoption of new and disruptive technologies needed at a rate the world has never seen before. Entire sectors of the global economy like transportation, distribution and heating will have to transition off of fossil fuels and onto renewable or other zero-emission sources of energy. There is a need for transformational change in all sectors of our economies to embrace policy changes in our effort to solve the carbon and climate problem.
This is easier said than done. In order to prevent 2°C of warming, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050 . IPCC also estimates that by 2050 the use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly 40 percent today to between 1 and 7 percent. This implies that renewable energy such as wind and solar, which make up about 20 percent of the global electricity mix today, would have to increase to as much as 67 percent.
Laszlo Varro, the chief economist with the International Energy Agency rightly summarized the report ina LinkedIn post  by saying “The IPCC was very clear that the impacts of high warming is the equivalent of a national emergency but at a planetary scale.” Varro appraised the challenge in front of us; global investments in wind and solar, which currently total approximately $250 billion per year, would need to be increased several folds to meet the 1.5°C target. "The energy that you get from this $250 billion investment buys you the equivalent of 1 percent of global electric demand," Varro said. "But global electricity demand is growing at 2 percent per year, so you don't even catch the growth of global electricity consumption let alone rapid decarbonizing."
He goes on to stress in an interview to Inside Climate News  that only through sustained investment on a global scale can we begin to roll back some of the anthropogenic damage done to our planet. To keep global warming in check, the world will have to invest an average of around $3 trillion a year over the next three decades. The IPCC summarizes that the transformation will require a global investment in clean energy and infrastructure to the tune of $1.6 trillion to $3.8 trillion a year (in 2010 U.S. dollars), with an average of about $3 trillion to $3.5 trillion a year from 2016 to 2050 . Even though this might seem like a lot to ask, the authors of the report are still optimistic because this $3 trillion yearly investment compares to an estimated $2.4 trillion a year that would otherwise be invested in energy systems as it is.
Many researchers agree that the cheapest ways to reduce carbon emissions and raise money in the interim are through the implementation of a carbon tax and the ‘cap and trade’ approach. It is believed that until cleaner energy alternatives become cheaper, some form of a carbon tax should become the de-facto way of governments to reduce carbon emissions. The report states “A price on carbon is central to prompt mitigation”. It estimates that to be effective, such a price would have to range from $135 to $5,500 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution in 2030, and from $690 to $27,000 per ton by 2100 .
The process of translating the Paris Agreement into national agendas has already started as the 195 member states agree that with a modest increase in our electricity budgets we can ensure that the world is powered by sustainable energy considering the cost of no action grossly expedites global catastrophe. For instance, countries like Canada have already started levying a revenue-neutral tax by passing the “Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act” . The federal carbon pollution price will start low at $20 per ton in 2019, rising at $10 per ton per year until reaching $50 per ton in 2022. If such a trend continues, Canada will be well on its way to be in the $135 to $5,500 bracket by 2030.
Such a move seems almost impossible in the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China, the United States, considering the current political climate. Lawmakers around the world, including in China, the European Union and California, have started enacting carbon pricing programs. These efforts are the building blocks of the international effort and together they can bring into effect the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
While governments may be leading the charge in our fight for a cleaner and cooler Earth, big corporations seem to have joined the fray when faced with the rising costs of fossil fuel emissions and climate change. A research and sustainability advocacy group Ceres has been working with companies and large investors for years to help them understand both the risks to their portfolios from high-carbon sources and the opportunities of investing in cleaner infrastructure as renewable energy prices fall. Ceres has been partnering with corporate giants like Google and Apple who have instituted organizational change by purchasing enough renewable energy to cover 100 percent of their power needs recognizing the huge impacts on their future supply lines.
It is often a gripe with people who refuse to ‘believe’ the science behind climate change because the predictions seldom present a redeemable future and are deemed extremely pessimistic. In truth, the scientific community continues to remain optimistic and is offering us the tools for the planet’s survival, the only thing that stands in our way, however, is political will. Dr Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University, put the political view in perspective when he stated “For governments, the idea of overshooting the target but then coming back to it is attractive because then they don’t have to make such rapid changes. But, it has a lot of disadvantages. It's not necessarily asking for some new pot of money to be magically created, but its a redirection from investment in fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables".
Ceres has been advocating for some time now that achieving what they call the first clean trillion entails an additional $1 trillion in clean energy investment per year through 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is imminently feasible. Sue Reid, Ceres’ vice president summed it up nicely when he stated that "We are in an all-hands-on-deck situation that requires transformational change in the public and private sectors, the likes of which the world has never seen. Fortunately, we already have at hand a range of tools that are needed—from clean energy technologies to effective policy models—to get us there.” The only question is whether our elected representatives will acknowledge what climate scientists have been saying for decades now - the clock ticks ever closer to midnight.
1. IPCC, 2018: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press.
2. Costliest U.S. tropical cyclones tables update (PDF) (Report). United States National Hurricane Center. January 12, 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 26, 2018. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
3. Blake, Eric S; Zelinsky, David A (January 23, 2018). Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Harvey: August 17 – September 1, 2017 (PDF) (Report). National Hurricane Center. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
4. "Member Report: China" (PDF). CMA. China Meterelogical Agency. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
5. Nikki Sun (23 August 2017). "Typhoon Hato could cause HK$8 billion in losses after No 10 signal storm brought Hong Kong to standstill". South China Morning Post.
6. "Typhoon Hato losses around MOP12.55 billion". Macau News Agency. February 22, 2018. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
8. Inside Climate News Article "https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11102018/ipcc-clean-energy-transformation-cost-trillion-climate-change-global-warming-renewable-coal-fossil-fuels". Published October 11, 2018.
9. Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (S.C. 2018, c. 12, s. 186) https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/G-11.55/
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