It's not too late to stave off the climate crisis, U.N. report finds. Here's how
The good news is that the world has solutions and technology to slow climate change. The bad news is that time is running out.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
There's some good news about climate change out today in a landmark report from hundreds of scientists. It finds the world does have the technology and it does have the solutions it needs to cut emissions. But time is running out to use them. For more on this, we're joined now by NPR's Lauren Sommer from our climate team. Hey, Lauren.
LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right. So what are the big takeaways from this report?
SOMMER: So this is a major scientific assessment of climate change that happens once every seven years or so. And it's put out by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes scientists from all over the world. This part of the assessment really looks at one question. Can we reduce heat-trapping emissions fast enough? - because the goal is to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That's just under 3 degrees Fahrenheit. If it gets hotter than that, disasters get much more dangerous, like heatwaves and storms, and we basically lose entire ecosystems like coral reefs. But the report found there is still time to avoid that.
CHANG: OK. So walk us through some of the ways that that could happen. Like, what would need to be done?
SOMMER: So one of the biggest ways is to cut emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels. The good news is that renewable energy has gotten a lot more affordable. The cost of solar, for example, came down 85% between 2010 and 2019. So in many cases, it's actually cheaper to build a renewable energy project than a fossil fuel power plant. But renewables are not growing fast enough, according to the report, especially in developing countries, where it's harder to get financing.
CHANG: Right. And there's been a new push for more oil and gas drilling in the last month due to the war in Ukraine - right? - like, since oil prices have spiked and European countries are trying to cut down their use of Russian natural gas.
SOMMER: Right. Yeah. And this report makes the point that those decisions to extract more fossil fuels will be locked in for decades. And from a climate point of view, the world can't afford it. You know, just operating the fossil fuel infrastructure that already exists today would put that 1.5 degree goal out of reach. And that's something that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres emphasized when the report came out.
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ANTONIO GUTERRES: The truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness.
CHANG: I mean, so if the world does wean itself off of fossil fuels over the next few decades, would that even be enough, Lauren.
SOMMER: No, probably not. Emissions need to fall around 40% in the next eight years.
SOMMER: So incredibly fast. Yeah.
SOMMER: The report also says that means we'll probably need to pull carbon emissions out of the atmosphere to kind of soak up what's already warming the planet.
CHANG: Right. And is the technology even available to do that?
SOMMER: I mean, people are working on it. It's called direct air capture. It literally pulls carbon out of the air. The technology is still very new, and climate activists worry that focusing on it might give the fossil fuel industry kind of a free pass to keep operating. So a more tried and true method is actually using nature to soak up carbon. Trees and soils already do that. So restoring forests or restoring wetlands could be a big help, and it's pretty cost-effective.
CHANG: OK. And what about our everyday lives? Like, what actions can we take as individuals to make an actual difference, I mean, given the scale of this challenge?
SOMMER: Yeah. There's things we can do, and it's not just the obvious things like recycling. The report emphasizes that the way we live our lives kind of has a long-lasting impact on the climate. So if cities are designed to help more people live closer to where they work or maybe bike or walk, that takes a big chunk out of the emissions from transportation. Buildings could be much more efficient. Electric cars would help. Stephanie Roe, one of the lead authors of the IPCC report and a lead scientist at the World Wildlife Fund, told me that it's about community-level change.
STEPHANIE ROE: There is a really, really amazing role that we can play not just as consumers but also as professionals. If you're a builder, if you're an urban planner, if you're an influencer, you have a role to play.
SOMMER: And the top 10% of the wealthiest households worldwide are responsible for a third or more of the emissions related to consumption. So really, the report shows that change has to happen in all parts of society. And right now countries are not on track to make the changes that the science shows are necessary to avoid some of these really devastating impacts.
CHANG: That is NPR's Lauren Sommer. Thank you so much, Lauren.
SOMMER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.