Mankind has the technology to slow global warming – and the shift can occur without breaking the bank. But the timetable is short and the political resistance to "low-carbon" economics is high.
That's the conclusion emerging as experts digest Friday's release of a report from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report, which focuses on the costs of various scenarios to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, the most aggressive of which would aim to limit warming to a range of 2 to 2.8 degrees C (3.6 to 5 degrees F.) by the end of the century. To accomplish that, the world's nations would have to institute sweeping changes that would slash emissions by as much as 85 percent by 2050. For the US, this eventually could boost gasoline prices by up to $1 a gallon, according to some estimates.
"In terms of real life ... you can't even imagine how we could get from here to there," says Vicki Arroyo, director of policy analysis for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Va.
In the US, many factories, power plants, and other big-ticket, energy-guzzling projects already are being built or soon will be and their impacts will be felt for decades, she points out. Abroad, major developing countries, such as China and India, are expected to continue their rapid growth and spiraling emissions.
In virtually every economic sector the report analyzes, efforts to adopt more atmosphere-friendly policies face serious constraints. Not the least is "resistance by vested interests," the report says.
The final wording in the IPCC's summary – a 38-page condensation of a larger tome running more than 1,000 pages – resulted from a week of sometimes torturous talk in Bangkok, Thailand, among delegations from 105 countries.