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Net negative emissions strategies needed to prevent dangerous climate change, say leading scientists

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Global plans to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 are “too little too late” and will not achieve the long-term temperature goals identified in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century, an influential group of scientists have warned.

The Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG) says its analysis of the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Sixth Assessment Report on the impact of climate change shows that that even if countries achieve net zero by 2050, this will not tackle greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. As a result, it warns there is only a 50 per cent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Photograph: iStock Credit: SeppFriedhuber

In its report, The Final Warning Bell, the CCAG says global leaders must shift their emphasis towards net negative emissions targets – where more carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere than is emitted – as the only viable way to ensure greenhouse gas levels can return to pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris Agreement. It argues that unless net negative emissions strategies are adopted, it is likely that global temperatures will exceed 1.5°C as soon as 2030, taking the world into a zone of dangerous climate change. 

The CCAG, which is a grouping of world-renowned climate experts from a range of disciplines, is therefore calling for a three-pillar ‘reduce, remove, repair’ strategy to tackle the climate crisis. It says this means:

  • Reduce - current targets for greenhouse gas reduction are insufficient, and nations need to triple their emissions-cutting pledges urgently to play their part
  • Remove - critical investment is needed to develop, research and scale techniques to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere
  • Repair - deep research is needed to explore and investigate safe methods and technologies that could repair parts of the damaged climate system.

Sir David King, chair of CCAG and a former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, said: “Achieving net zero by 2050 is no longer enough to ensure a safe future for humanity; we must revise global targets beyond net zero, and commit to net negative strategies urgently.

“It’s clearer than ever that there is no carbon budget remaining, and there really is no room left for manoeuvre; this is our ‘now or never’ moment. The world will be watching in November, as governments and policymakers come together at COP26, and they must put the future of humanity first.”

Professor Nerilie Abram, a member of the CCAG and professor at the Australian Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, said: “The science is clear and simple – every tonne of CO2 we emit does damage. Despite 30 years of increasingly dire warnings from the IPCC, our global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise relentlessly. We are now out of time.

“The lack of effective action from the global community means that drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are no longer enough. To avoid the catastrophic climate changes that lie beyond 1.5°C of warming we now have no choice but to also rapidly pull greenhouse gases back out of the atmosphere. This must be part of the conversation.”

The Final Warning Bell report is available here.

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