Oil prices dropped Monday morning as a new major report called on governments to rapidly cut the use of fossil fuels to limit emissions.
The price of U.S. crude dropped 4.33% and Brent crude had dropped 4.16% by noon BST, with investors selling off holdings of the fossil fuel following the release of the sixth assessment report from the influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In the report, the world’s top climate experts laid out a stark message that humans are causing global temperature rises that will endanger civilization. The researchers declared that if nations can rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is “extremely likely” that global warming can be limited to within 2 degrees Celsius this century. With concerted, coordinated action to slash emissions, the experts said, it is still possible to limit warming to just over 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, with a 0.1 degree overshoot.
Among the key insights revealed by the report are updates on the advances in climate science that have enabled researchers to better understand the effects that humans are having on the planet, and the impacts that those effects are having. Included in the report are several unequivocal statements on the nature of global warming—particularly with regard to humanity’s hand in it. Introducing the report IPCC chair Hoesung Lee stated: “It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change and making extreme weather events more frequent and severe.”
From heatwaves and droughts to record rainfall and tropical cyclones, the authors write, “human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.” Attribution of these phenomena to human activity “has strengthened” since the last IPCC assessment.
The drop in the prices of crude oil take place in a context of growing public awareness of the causes of climate change, and a resultant growing antipathy towards fossil fuels among investors. This reality has had the oil industry scrambling to find a way forward. Despite protestations that they are doing their part to cut carbon emissions, oil giants such as Shell are increasingly facing legal action to limit their impacts on the climate. Firms including Exxon Mobil are having to deal with revolts from their own shareholders for their lackluster climate plans. For similar reasons, last week Exxon was thrown out of the the Climate Leadership Council, an advocacy group it helped to form.
“Many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global warming,” they write. But the authors emphasize that drastically limiting greenhouse gas emissions now could “lead within years to discernible effects on greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations, and air quality.”
Another highlight of the report is the inclusion, for the first time, of a discussion of so-called climate tipping points, which are crucial thresholds at which major global systems are forced to reorganize abruptly. “The probability of low-likelihood, high impact outcomes increases with higher global warming levels (high confidence),” the authors write. “Abrupt responses and tipping points of the climate system, such as strongly increased Antarctic ice sheet melt and forest dieback, cannot be ruled out.”
The IPCC assessment is the most substantial report of its kind for seven years, and brings together all of the most significant, peer-reviewed climate research to enable governments around the world to develop climate policies. Some 234 experts around the world reviewed more than 14,000 peer-reviewed research papers to reach the strongest possible consensus on the science of climate change.
Responding to the report, Mitchell Bernard, president of the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. If we fail—and we must not—millions of people will suffer unbearable hardship, loss and even death from climate catastrophe. The dire IPCC report makes abundantly clear that policymakers everywhere must take swift, decisive action to combat global climate change. They must slash harmful pollution, hasten the transition to clean and safe sources of energy while safeguarding the most vulnerable communities and making them more resilient to the devastating havoc wrought by climate change.”
Bernard added: “The most significant next step in the U.S. is to overcome opposition from the fossil fuel industry and enablers in Congress by passing President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which weds an equitable recovery with climate action. Globally, countries must commit to deeper cuts in climate pollution, stop destroying intact forests, protect nature and build resilient communities. In addition, financiers must stop backing fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction. They all need to act like there’s no tomorrow; it’s that stark.”
The report will provide a vital basis of fact for climate negotiations, including the COP26 climate conference, to be held in the U.K. in November, at which countries will be expected to come up with an enhanced plan to coordinate action to slow global warming and prepare for its impacts. It is in fact the first of four reports from the IPCC: the second report, to be released in February 2022, will deal with impacts of climate change and adapting to those impacts, while a third report in March will cover how the world should go about reducing the pace of climate change. A fourth, released the following September, will bring all the work together in a synthesis report.
In the U.K. Luke Murphy, the head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, a think-tank, said: “The time for talk, half measures, dithering and delay has passed: we need action from world leaders and we need it now. As the host of COP26, the UK government has a unique responsibility to show leadership at home by putting in place plans to rapidly reduce emissions while also using all of its diplomatic skill to achieve consensus abroad.”