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What the world can do to avoid irreversible human and environmental harm

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The scientific climate change marathon continues next week with the release of the third Working Group report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This follows the release of the reports of the first (the Physical Science Basis) and second working group (Impacts Adaptation and Vulnerability) respectively.

The first two reports laid solid ground as global scientists affirmed:

  • the world’s climate system is in a dire status of change;
  • human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are still rising, causing the highest concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere for at least 800,000 years;
  • oceans are rising and acidifying, threatening survival of entire small island nations; and
  • new assessments of assessing current and future threats of climate change on people and ecosystems.

Next week’s third reportwill include ways to cut emissions, the economics of doing so, and the core constraints and opportunities. In short – what the world can and ideally must do to change the current trajectory and avoid irreversible human and environmental harm.

This report is crucial for raising the bar of responsibility for governments to confidently take effective action on climate change through policies, financial decision making, and setting ambitious targets to cut emissions in the run-up to the crucial climate change meeting in Paris next year when a new global climate change deal is expected to be agreed.

renewable energy

For WWF, it is most important that the report clearly communicates the direct and positive impact of substantively cutting fossil fuel investments and growing investments in clean renewables and energy efficiency. This is central element of WWF’s globalSeize Your Power campaign. Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas -arenow responsible for about two thirds of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Effective climate change action will fail if the fossil fuel sector is not addressed adequately. As it stands, overall annual fossil fuel mining and infrastructure investments have grown to over 1trillion USD as of 2013, while investments in renewables and energy efficiency trail atless than half that scale.

This week’s climate changereport is expected to clearly illustrate the economic costs of staying well below 2°C. It is important to remember that this is not a debate about the perceived least costs of stopping climate change versus dealing with climate change – because there is a point at which the impacts of climate change are beyond adaptation. At this point, the costs become irrelevant.
The benefits of drastically cutting CO2 must also be clearly laid out – such as avoided health and ecosystem impacts.

At the end of the day, we all know that there is no price that can be put on the value and importance of biodiversity, human lives, or global security and resilience. These sometimes narrow economic comparisons must be addressed within a full and measured context of what we stand to lose if we do not act now.

WWF is confident that the world will receive a scientifically sound and strong document this week, showing that bold actions, such as increased investment in renewables, are possible and necessary to combat climate change – Essential economically, socially, environmentally, and – let’s not forget – ethically.

Dr Stephan Singer

Dr Stephan Singer is the director responsible for Global Energy Policy for WWF.

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