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Too Late or Not Too Late? How to Interpret the IPCC Report

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Too late or not too late? That is the question which anyone could be forgiven for asking after reading the news about the groundbreaking climate report (PDF) released yesterday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It is now beyond a shadow of a doubt that climate change is here now and everywhere, and that the worst is yet to come. And not to put too fine a point on it, the future of human civilization and life as we know it is at stake.

Without any apparent sense of irony, ExxonMobil launched its own report on the same day as the IPCC release, reassuring its investors "that carbon-based fuels will continue to meet about three-quarters of global energy needs through 2040."

What they didn't tell their shareholders is that should we continue to rely on fossil fuels for the majority of our energy supply, we can kiss our children's future goodbye.

Fortunately, we don't need to. The IPCC makes clear that taking decisive action now will save lives and money. In fact, reducing carbon pollution rapidly and immediately can cut the overall economic damages of climate change in half. We will hear much more on this topic when part three of the report -- on mitigation options -- is released in Berlin next week.

Given that the IPCC first sounded the alarm nearly 25 years ago, it's fair to ask why governments are more likely to take heed this time around.

For one thing, governments have already promised to do what's necessary to hold temperature rise below 2 degrees C. For another, combating climate change makes good economic sense. Investing in energy efficiency is a huge job creator, and would save hundreds of billions of dollars in avoided energy costs.

Governments could generate additional benefits by phasing out the wasteful subsidizing of fossil fuels. Producer subsidies and tax credits which create corporate incentives for new exploration and development should be the first to go. For the same money, we could be escalating the deployment of clean, renewable energy.

If anyone tells you that a 100 percent renewable energy-powered future is unrealistic, don't believe them. There are no technical barriers to addressing the climate crisis. Really. The only thing missing is political will and leadership. We need only remember the race to put a man on the moon to have faith in the importance of having what some would consider impossible ambitions.

So how do we generate the necessary political will?

Business and financial leaders, pension fund managers, religious and labor leaders, and people from all walks of life are joining the fight to prevent catastrophic climate change. It is becoming increasingly obvious that climate change is not only about protecting polar bears or the environment, but is fundamentally about people -- about jobs, food, water, children, and quality of life. Global change will only happen when people perceive it as relevant to their daily struggles and priorities -- and at this critical moment in history, people are connecting the dots. As leaders of the two largest international climate networks, we are optimistic that a political tipping point is approaching.

Heads of State and Government will gather at the United Nations this September for the first Climate Leaders Summit, which will focus exclusively on climate change. This represents an historic opportunity for our leaders to address the crisis head on, and for civil society to demand it of them. They must announce bold actions at the national and local levels which go far beyond the status quo, light years beyond business as usual.

To remain within relatively safe limits of temperature rise, we can't bow to the will of ExxonMobil. The science tells us that we need to phase out greenhouse gas emissions by around the middle of the. This is a challenging goal, to be sure, but unless we want to consign our children and grandchildren to a world reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic B-movie, it's a challenge worth accepting.

So is it too late, or is it not too late? That is not a question, but a choice.

This post is co-authored by Kelly Rigg and Wael Hmaidan.

Kelly Rigg is the Executive Director of the Global Call to Climate Action, a network of more than 450 nonprofit organizations. She has been leading international campaigns for 30 years on climate, energy, oceans, Antarctica and other issues.

Wael Hmaidan is a social entrepreneur and the Director of Climate Action Network International. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, CAN is a network of more than 850 NGOS from 100 countries working together to fight the climate crisis.

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