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We – hu­man­ity – have 12 years to change our life­style in un­prece­dented ways if we are to avoid cat­a­strophic cli­mate change – and changes in­clude eat­ing less meat and aban­don­ing our cars. So says the United Na­tions’ re­cently-re­leased In­tergovern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) re­port, which warns that 2030 is the point-of-no-re­turn for us to adopt changes that will help to avoid a plague of droughts, heavy flood­ing, ex­treme heat and poverty.

On our cur­rent tra­jec­tory, says the 400-page re­port, earth is likely to warm by 3°C. We need to cut that to around 1.5°C – as out­lined in the Paris Agree­ment ear­lier this year.

Sci­en­tists be­lieve the ef­fects of cli­mate change – and these ef­fects in­clude droughts on one end of the spec­trum to ris­ing seas on the other – will be less ex­treme if tem­per­a­ture rises are curbed at 1.5°C above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els. Green­house gas emis­sions were sta­ble prior to the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion – the cli­mate has warmed by 1°C since the mid-1800s.

Some 6,000 sci­en­tific works were ref­er­enced in the IPCC re­port, and its spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude:

• Global CO² emis­sions must fall 45% by 2030

• The use of coal needs to de­cline from 38% to nearly zero by 2050. This will re­quire shut­ting down hun­dreds of coal-fired power sta­tions

• Re­new­ables should pro­vide 85% of global elec­tric­ity by 2050

• We need to change our diet: eat­ing meat cre­ates more CO² than vegeta­bles

• The planet needs ma­jor re­for­esta­tion to ab­sorb CO2 from the at­mos­phere

• We’ll have to start stor­ing car­bon un­der­ground, a process called BECCS (bioen­ergy and car­bon cap­ture and stor­age)

Apart from the in­con­ve­nience, says the IPCC re­port, these changes will come with a cost: lim­it­ing global warm­ing to 1.5°C has an an­nual price tag of around $3.6 tril­lion over the next two decades.

Says Jim Skea, a co-chair of the work­ing group on mit­i­ga­tion: “We have pre­sented gov­ern­ments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enor­mous ben­e­fits of keep­ing [tem­per­a­ture rises] to 1.5°C, and also the un­prece­dented shift in en­ergy sys­tems and trans­port that would be needed to achieve that. We show it can be done within laws of physics and chem­istry. Then the fi­nal tick box is po­lit­i­cal will. We can­not an­swer that. Only our au­di­ence can – and that is the gov­ern­ments that re­ceive it.”

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