By Anders Lorenzen
Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) yet again warned us about the climate impacts hurtling toward us at breakneck speed. They set out the state of climate mitigation and impacts in a report released on Monday the 4th of April.
It was sombre reading. The UN agency concluded global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are at the highest levels in human history and without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors limiting climate change to 1.5°C will be beyond reach.
However, in an effort to offer some positives, the IPCC, which represents the world’s best climate scientists, said we have seen evidence of accelerating action against climate change. They pointed to the fact that since 2010 the cost of solar, wind and battery technology has decreased by up to 85%. They added that due to the increase in climate-friendly policies and laws we have seen enhanced energy efficiency, reduced deforestation rates and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy.
The report Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change looked at a variety of pathways for increased climate actions. It set out that we have the ability to halve emissions across all sectors by 2030 but warned that it would require major transitions in the energy sector and argued that a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use is required alongside widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, the use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen and the adoption of carbon capture and storage (CCS).
At a crossroads
The IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said: “We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming.” IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla added: “40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 offers significant untapped potential. The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”
The authors also outlined the role cities and urban areas offer in reducing emissions. Policies that promote and encourage lower energy consumption through, for instance, walkable cities and the electrification of transport in conjunction with low-emission energy sources as well as enhanced carbon uptake and storage using natural mechanisms such as tree-planting schemes. They added that there are a variety of options available suitable for both rapidly growing as well as new cities and highlighted that there are examples of zero-energy and zero-carbon buildings in almost all climates, adding that it is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.
Across industry, they said there is huge potential for emission reductions as the sector accounts for a quarter of global emissions. This would include using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimising waste. Basic materials such as steel, building materials and chemicals low- to zero GHG production processes are at the pilot to the near-commercial stage. New production processes will be necessary, with low and zero-emissions electricity, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) to reach net-zero. In addition, agriculture, forestry and other land use can provide large-scale emissions reductions as well as remove and store CO2 at scale. However, they cautioned that land cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors.
Emission needs to peak within the next three years
The scientists said that in the scenarios they assessed, in order to limit warming to the 1.5°C thresholds which were agreed upon by world leaders during the COP21 UN climate summit in 2015, GHG emissions would need to peak before 2025 at the very latest and be reduced by 43% by 2030. At the same time, the GHG methane would need to be reduced by a third. They cautioned that even if this were to be achieved, which at the moment looks very unlikely, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold, though it is possible it could be brought back in check by the end of this century. The scientists explained that the global temperature would stabilise once CO2 emissions reach net-zero. This means that in order for 1.5°C to be achieved net-zero will need to be reached in the early 2050s.
Turning to the world of finance, the authors said that the capital needed to be invested at present is three to six times lower than the levels which will be needed by 2030 just to limit warming to 2.°C, but added there is enough global capital and liquidity to make it happen. However, governments need to provide clear signals in order to direct capital where it is most needed.
Maya Golden-Krasner, Deputy Director, Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute said about the report: “The polar heat waves, ice shelf collapse and fossil-fueled war surrounding this report shows we need a lifeline for humanity, not fossil fuels. The report makes clear that we urgently need the political will to leave fossil fuels in the ground, advance renewable energy and invest in nature-based carbon dioxide removal through forest and ecosystem protection.”