Three-quarters of fossil fuels must stay in the ground, say scientists

'Earth Day' statement warns of tipping point, with some environmental damage already irreversible


To mark ‘Earth Day 2015’, a collective of 17 world-leading scientists have published a statement outlining goals for the UN climate summit in Paris this December.

The Earth League, which includes Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and adviser to Angela Merkel, Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Center and Lord Nicholas Stern, say that 2015 marks a tipping point where a good climate future is still within reach.

Rockström, the report’s lead author, said:

“It’s so frustrating, because it’s the choice of moving down a business-as-usual route with devastating outcomes for humanity and, at the same time, we have this almost unprecedented opportunity,we can transform the world economy to a fossil fuel-free one and moreover do it in a way that is security and health-wise more attractive.”

However, certain thresholds may have already been crossed, such as the melting of parts of Antarctica. The report says we have a moral obligation to achieve a zero-carbon society by mid-century, or risk a one in 10 chance of temperatures rising by more than 6°C  by 2100. The authors compare this level of risk to accepting 10,000 plane crashes per day.

The Earth League say that in order to achieve emissions targets and avert this kind of catastrophe, we must leave at least three quarters of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. The remaining global carbon budget – which represents the limit of what we can still emit in the future and still keep warming below 2°C –­ must be well below 1000 Gt CO2.

Humans have already emitted around 2000 Gt CO2 since the beginning of industrialisation.On current emissions trends, the remaining 1000 Gt CO2 would be used up within the next 25 years.

There is a clear, and urgent, need to start adapting to cleaner energy forms now. In Paris, the report says, every country ‘must formulate an emissions pathway consistent with deep decarbonisation’. It adds that ‘developing countries should formulate plans far beyond what they can be expected to pursue on their own […] well supported by international climate finance and technology access.’

Strong national commitments must be made, including a price on carbon, and a possibility to ramp up ambition via regular reviews. The report also recommends that fossil fuel subsidies should be removed urgently, and that investment is redirected to spark a global renewable energy revolution.

But the Earth League are well aware that not all leaders are fully on side in this mission, with Rockström warning that ‘we’re not at all where we need to be’.

Brian Hoskins, another signatory and the director of the Grantham institute for climate change at Imperial College London, told the Guardian that given the importance of the Paris summit, the attention given to climate change in the UK general election campaign was ‘pathetic’ and ‘extremely disappointing’.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter


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