New IPCC Report Finds Sharp Cuts in Fossil Fuels and Emissions Urgently Needed, Policymakers’ Failures Putting Climate Goals at Risk

Statements by Drs. Rachel Cleetus, Kristina Dahl at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Apr 4, 2022

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WASHINGTON—Following a virtual session, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today released the third part of its Sixth Assessment Report, which focuses on mitigating climate change and assesses options for reducing global warming emissions and removing them from the atmosphere. It also builds on the first and second parts of the assessment, which covered the physical science basis for climate change and climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, respectively. Complementing the report is a summary document for policymakers that has been endorsed by governments.

This report is the result of several years of hard work by scientists from around the world, drawing on an exhaustive foundation of peer-reviewed scientific literature in a process that demands intensive scrutiny and consensus. Among its main findings, the IPCC’s Working Group III emphasized emissions must be cut sharply within this decade and decline to net zero by roughly 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement. Such an endeavor requires transformative shifts across the economy and society, including ramping up energy efficiency, a complete transition to renewable energy to power homes and businesses, widespread electrification of vehicles, and increased conservation of forests and lands. In addition to the usual information past IPCC reports have covered, the latest iteration increases the inclusion of social science analyses; examines how mounting climate litigation could further climate action; and highlights the growing roles of cities, states, Indigenous Peoples, youth, and businesses in demanding and driving efforts to rein in global warming emissions.

Below is a statement by Dr. Kristina Dahl, a principal climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The very first IPCC report found that limiting climate change and its resulting impacts would require nations to cut the majority of their heat-trapping emissions. Thirty-two subsequent years of inaction by policymakers and obstruction by the fossil fuel industry has led us in the opposite direction. This latest IPCC report finds that global emissions are now 54% higher than they were in 1990 and starkly points out that from 2010 to 2019, heat-trapping emissions were higher than ever and are still rising globally across all major sectors.

“To keep the principal goal of the Paris Agreement within reach, countries will need to strengthen their national pledges and decrease global heat-trapping emissions by roughly 40% relative to 2019 levels within this decade. Because we have failed to rein in global warming emissions to date, the choices available to us are no longer ideal. In addition to deep, absolute cuts in heat-trapping emissions, some amount of these emissions will also need to be removed from the atmosphere if nations are to limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees or even 2 degrees Celsius. Most emissions removal options, however, come with substantial, and in some cases untenable, tradeoffs. On the other hand, surpassing the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold would lead to catastrophic climate impacts—with some so extreme adapting will no longer be feasible—as well as significant loss of life, property, and ecosystems in the United States and around the world. The science of climate change, its consequences, and the solutions to it could not be clearer. The ball is now in the court of world leaders and policymakers, who must act with the utmost urgency to address the global climate crisis.”

Below is a statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, the policy director and lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at UCS and an official civil society observer to the IPCC Working Group III process.

“This latest IPCC report puts policymakers on notice, yet again, that the current global trajectory of heat-trapping emissions is alarmingly off-track. Their continued inaction is directly responsible for the climate crisis already here, and it has also placed the goals of the Paris Agreement at grave risk. The solutions are obvious and have been for a long time—the world needs to rapidly phase out fossil fuels and accelerate the shift to clean energy. Richer nations, including the United States, bear significant responsibility for action because of their outsize contribution to global warming emissions.

“Fossil fuels are the root cause of climate change, of environmental injustices and—as we are witnessing in Ukraine right now—frequently associated with geopolitical strife and conflict. Transformative changes in how we get and use energy are entirely within our grasp as the costs of wind and solar power, as well as battery storage, tumble while innovation soars. What’s urgently needed are robust policies and investments to cut heat-trapping emissions across every sector of the economy by scaling up energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean transportation, and electrification; protecting and restoring forests, soils and ecosystems; and investing in a just transition for communities and workers dependent on fossil fuels.

“Richer nations must also provide funding for low-income countries to make a clean energy transition aligned with sustainable development, yet those financial flows have been significantly lagging. Additionally, public and private financing for fossil fuels still exceed those for addressing climate change. The increased interest in climate litigation also signals the importance of holding fossil fuel companies accountable for the climate damages for which they are responsible.

“Decades of failure in global leadership, combined with fossil fuel companies’ single-minded focus on their profits and unsustainable patterns of consumption within the world’s richest households, are putting our planet at peril. Continuing down the current path leaves us poised to exceed 1.5 and even 2 degrees Celsius of warming. Every year policymakers choose to selfishly delay action from here on out is a testament to their lack of courage, which future generations will not soon forget. Instead, let’s seize this precious, narrow window of opportunity to secure a safer, healthier and more just world.”

If you would like to talk with Dr. Cleetus, Dr. Dahl, or another UCS expert on any of the three latest IPCC reports, please contact UCS Climate and Energy Media Manager Ashley Siefert Nunes.

Additional Resources:

  • A UCS statement on part one (WGI) of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.
  • A UCS statement on part two (WGII) of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.
  • A recent blog post by Dr. Cleetus on the need for world leaders and policymakers to address crises happening simultaneously—such as the war in Ukraine and climate change—given a recent IPCC report says such crises will continue to intersect and overlap in the years ahead.
  • A 2021 UCS report that offers a transformative framework to ensure a people-centered approach for transitioning the United States to a clean energy economy.