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Fossil fuel lobbyists prepare for hard-hitting UN Climate Change report

'Nobody is safe and it’s getting worse faster' says UN Environment Programme head Inger Andersen at launch of report for climate change summit

The UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered on 9 August its most devastating estimate to date of the costs of our consumption of fossil fuels. It warns that without emergency measures to cut greenhouse gases that earth will warm by 1.5 degrees centigrade within 20 years.

In turn that would set the conditions for the critical ceiling of 2 degrees, and its attendant environmental destruction, to be breached during this century. The IPCC report's conclusions convey the starkest warnings for Africa, already the region in the world hardest hit by climate change.

Above all it raises the question of how African farmers can adapt to an era of worsening drought and floods while the region's fossil fuel producers respond to the shift in Western market sentiment against coal and hydrocarbons.

UN Secretary General Antonió Guterres called the IPCC report 'document red' with a stern message for the oil and mining companies: 'This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet.'

IPCC report has crunched the numbers on how much each tonne of CO2 costs society, with an implicit calculus of much the polluters should pay. That's another stark message to Big Oil and Big Mining.

Bystanders to the arguments over climate change might think that the last few years of forest fires, hurricanes, galloping desertification, floods and the spread of water-borne diseases would end the disputation. Far from it. Key oil-producing economies, such as Saudi Arabia, together with big oil and coal-mining companies, are fighting their corner ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow in November.

Global geopolitics have shifted against the fossil fuel merchants. It was one of Joe Biden's first acts as United States President to bring his country back into the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. It is also one of the few global issues on which there is broad agreement between the US, Europe and China.

But that will not make the practical task of reaching agreement at COP26 much easier. Although it agrees on the science behind the IPCC conclusions, China remains heavily dependent on coal for electricity; India still more so.

And like many developing economies, they criticise the West for double standards over carbon emissions, having used coal and oil to drive their industrial revolutions.

More trenchant still are the critiques from oil and coal producing economies in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America which have been calculating the cost of the planned energy transition as their natural resources are relegated by global markets to the status of 'stranded assets'.

Standing aside from the geopolitics, the IPCC report is an assessment of the latest research on climate change. It offers five scenarios for environmental developments over the next three decades but avoids any policy prescriptions. It will publish follow-up reports early next year on ecological effects, and strategies for adapting to and mitigating the impact of global warming.

The IPCC brought together 200 of the world's leading climate scientists, backed by the UN, to analyse what the latest scientific data reveals about the extent, pace and future pattern of climate change. Its conclusions were endorsed by over 190 UN member state delegations.

In its last big report in 2018, the IPCC launched the idea of 'net-zero' emissions, arguing that a ceiling of 1.5 degrees centigrade on warming would be required to avert catastrophic climate change.

To achieve that target, countries would have to halve their carbon emissions by 2030 and cut them out completely by 2050. This latest report reinforces those projections and strengthens the language, drawing on the recent spate of wildfires and floods across the globe.

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