Global Emissions Must Peak by 2030, Says New IPCC Chief

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By  Eric J. Lyman

Oct. 7 — The newly elected head of the United Nations body that studies climate science warned Oct. 7 that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak no later than 2030.

“We are running out of time to take action,” South Korean economist Hoesung Lee said at the 42nd session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Lee said to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change, science and IPCC modeling showed that worldwide greenhouse gas emissions must peak “in the next several years, or, at the latest, by 2030,” and then fall by an average of 3 percent a year after that until the end of the century to reach zero net emissions by 2100.

A long-term emissions reduction target appears in the latest version of the negotiating text for the world's first global climate agreement, which the UN hopes to finalize late this year in Paris. But so far the language in the mitigation section is without any agreed-to specifics and almost all the proposed language is weaker than the targets Lee outlined in his remarks.

Lee, 69, was elected Oct. 6 as only the second permanent chair of the IPCC in more than 13 years .

Carbon Markets.

A 23-year veteran of the IPCC, Lee also stressed his long-held belief in the role of markets in bringing down greenhouse gas emissions: “We need business, finance to help solve climate change,” he said.

Lee also brushed aside critiques that putting a price on carbon—a necessary step in order for markets to work—was a political issue.

“The concept of carbon pricing is not a matter for political discussion; it is straight from economics textbooks,” he said.

Yet the role of market mechanisms was de-emphasized in the latest version of the negotiating text the UN plans to use at the upcoming Paris summit, mentioned only briefly and in the section of the text not intended to be legally binding, where it would be subject to renegotiation at future talks .

Input From Developing World.

Lee promised to increase the role of developing countries and the private sector in the IPCC's work. He said experts from the developing world were “essential” to understanding the impacts of climate change in those parts of the world and to balancing the need for economic growth with efforts to keep greenhouse gas emissions in check.

Regarding the role of private-sector inputs, Lee said, “Governments alone cannot solve climate change; we need the best and the brightest from the private sector.”

Lee is only the second permanent head of the IPCC since 2002, formally replacing Rajendra Pachauri, who resigned amid scandal in February after leading the panel for nearly 13 years. Sudanese academic and researcher Ismail El Gizouli filled the chairman's role on an interim basis starting soon after Pachauri's resignation.

The IPCC is the UN's scientific and advisory body charged with modeling and assessing risks associated with climate change. In 2014, the organization released its fifth assessment report, which said climate change was “unequivocally” causedby human activity.

Officially, the sixth assessment report should be released between 2019 and 2021. Lee said it was too early to be more specific in terms of the release date for that report.

The IPCC conference in Croatia, which got under way Oct. 5, will conclude Oct. 8.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Rome

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at