14 April 2014
A long-awaited UN report on how to curb climate change says the world must rapidly move away from carbon-intensive fuels. There must be a "massive shift" to renewable energy, says the study released in Berlin by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
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The authors acknowledge that a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is easier to recommend than to achieve. Many countries are locked into using fuels like coal.
Here in Germany coal provides nearly half the electricity. But because greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere so rapidly, the conclusion is that it's better to make the change sooner rather than later. Professor Jim Skea at Imperial College is a leading figure on the panel.
"The message is that we need to start from 2020 onwards. If you wait as long as 2030 to put in place measures, it is going to start to get difficult. Emissions have risen more quickly in the last ten years than they have at any point in the past, and if we carry on in that kind of way till 2030, then you will be faced with these difficult choices. We need to move much more quickly than that."
One surprise is a low estimate for the cost of phasing out fossil fuels and boosting wind and solar power. The panel says that less than one tenth of 1% will be shaved off annual global growth. However, this figure rests on a host of assumptions, and for the moment, renewable energy still needs subsidies, which raises questions about public acceptance.
The panel does believe its options are feasible and it hopes they'll be implemented in the coming years.
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- fossil fuels
substances formed underground from dead plants and animals which are used for energy (eg. coal, oil, gas)
- locked into
unable to easily change a particular behaviour or plan because it has advantages (eg. financial)
- greenhouse gases
gases in the atmosphere that trap escaping heat energy, causing some of it to pass back to the Earth's surface
- building up
- phasing out
information accepted as true even if there is no proof