Top 10 Climate Science Insights: Rapid fossil fuels phase-out crucial for minimising 1.5°C overshoot

In a critical climate science milestone, global social and natural science experts presented the annual “10 New Insights in Climate Science” report, coinciding with Health Day at COP28 on Sunday, 3 December. The report, a collaborative effort of Future Earth, the Earth League, and the World Climate Research Programme, provides policymakers with essential information derived from the latest climate science research, aiming to guide negotiations at COP28 and shape policies through 2024 and beyond.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Mr Simon Stiell emphasised the report’s importance: “Scientific findings from reports like these should inform the ambitious and evidence-based action plans needed in this critical decade of accelerated climate action.”

The report underscores the imminent risk of overshooting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C global warming target, stressing the necessity for a rapid and managed fossil fuel phase-out. Prof. Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, asserted, “COP28 must be the global meeting when the world gets serious about phasing out fossil fuels.”

The experts recommend a shift from the current 1% annual increase in fossil fuel usage to a global decrease of at least 5% per year. Failure to achieve this, as Prof. Rockström warns, could jeopardise the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C biophysical limit.

The report also emphasises the need for robust policies to scale up complementary technology solutions, particularly carbon dioxide removal (CDR), in light of emerging concerns about land and ocean carbon sinks. Apart from fossil fuel concerns, the report highlights the risks associated with over-reliance on natural carbon sinks, emphasising the uncertainty of their future contributions. The report spotlights the critical role of food systems in climate action, responsible for approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Launched every year on the UNFCCC COPs since 2017, the “10 New Insights in Climate Science” series represents the collective efforts of 67 leading researchers from 24 countries. This year’s report is dedicated to the late Professor Saleemul Huq, a climate science visionary and advocate for the Global South. Professor Huq passed away in Dhaka in late October.

COP28 President’s commitment questioned again

On the same day, the Guardian reported that COP28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber said that phase out of fossil fuels has “no science base”. He expressed his views in heated replies to queries posed by Mary Robinson, the chair of the Elders group and a former UN special envoy for climate change, during a live online event on November 21. In addition to overseeing COP28 in Dubai, Al Jaber serves as the chief executive of ADNOC, the state oil company of the United Arab Emirates, a situation perceived by many as a significant conflict of interest.

According to the latest IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report from March 2023, the imperative is to reduce CO2 emissions by 48% by 2030 and 99% by 2050, with the majority currently stemming from fossil fuel combustion. Projections indicate that emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure alone surpass the remaining budget for the 1.5°C goal. Contrary to concerns, phasing out fossil fuels is not anticipated to regress society, as clean technologies are readily available, increasingly cost-effective, and embraced by the public.

Marina Romanello, Executive Director of Lancet Countdown, said: “In the light of this statement, Health Day seems like complete hypocrisy. It’s an enormous betrayal to invite the health community at the table but ignore all the warnings and science that point to how disastrous the impacts of fossil fuels are on our health and future. An outcome that doesn’t address the phase-out of fossil fuels would be a failed outcome. We need governments to step up and negotiate a climate agreement where we have a future, not one where we are just holding on by the skin of our teeth”. (nsh)

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