Scientists, business chiefs and analysts have warned humanity must stop burning coal, oil and gas to power the global economy or face an irreversible climate catastrophe.
Barely five weeks after the world hailed a 195-nation United Nations sponsored Paris Agreement to stop global warming, plummeting oil prices have thrown into perspective the challenge of bringing about its promised energy revolution.
“The economics at these prices will mean that it is very cost effective to use oil rather than renewable energy which are still very expensive at these prices,” said IHS chief economist Dr Nariman Behravesh at the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Governments would need to take drastic action, for example by imposing a carbon tax, he told AFP at the WEF annual meeting of the rich and powerful, casting doubt, however, on whether it would be possible to do so on a global scale.
The post-2020 Paris Agreement, reached December 12, aimed to avert the most calamitous effects of climate change: severe droughts, floods and storms, and rising seas that would engulf islands and coastal areas populated by hundreds of millions of people.
AFP reports the Paris accord set a target of limiting warming of the planet to “well below” 2.0 degrees Celsius compared with the Industrial Revolution, while aiming for an even more ambitious goal of 1.5°C.
To do so, emissions of greenhouse gases will need to peak “as soon as possible”, followed by rapid reductions, the agreement stated.
“Science indicates that if we can come close to 1.5°C it allows us to avoid what we call catastrophic tipping points,” said Professor Johan Rockstrom, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
“We could avoid irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet, seven metres of sea level rise. We could avoid irreversible methane release from thawing permafrost,” he added.
Already, Mr Rockstrom said, disruption to the Earth’s climate system was evident in the unprecedented impact of the 2015-2016 El Nino weather pattern, which is associated with a sustained period of warming in the central and eastern tropical Pacific and can spark deadly and costly climate extremes.
To avoid the worst, mankind would have to protect the oceans and the planet’s ecosystem including its forests, in addition to slashing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
“Why? Because the biosphere, nature to put it simply, takes up 4.5 gigatonnes, actually half of our emissions of carbon dioxide.”
Renewable energies may start to win the financial argument, however, Ratul Puri, chairman of Hindustan Power, told AFP.
“There will be a need for a balance because renewable energy including solar are intermittent in nature, and therefore any grid system as it is designed out needs to have a balanced approach,” Mr Puri said.
The cost of inaction is incalculable, said a senior insurance executive, who estimated the economic burden of all natural catastrophes at $180 billion a year of which only about a quarter was insured.
“If we don’t do anything we won’t be talking about the market for the insurance industry in 50 years, the planet will simply be uninsurable,” he said.