The past few days the recently published IPCC report has been subject to enormous attention over the worldwide news. The message? The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is out of sight unless we adjust our actions soon. Action on a larger scale must be taken, within a short amount of time, to prevent global warming from reaching catastrophic levels that can not be undone. In the next paragraphs, the most important insights are outlined.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is divided into three working groups and a task force. Working Group I (WG1) deals with The Physical Science Basis of Climate Change, Working Group II (WG2) with Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability and Working Group III (WG3) with Mitigation of Climate Change. In other words, WG3 is responsible for providing a comprehensive view of the state of knowledge on climate change and evaluates potential mitigation measures to address climate change.
A couple of weeks ago, the IPCC released its sixth report on climate change, focusing on impact, adaptation and vulnerability. In one of our earlier academy articles, we listed the main takeaways of the contribution of Working Group II. The IPCC released its latest report this week, which provides an up-to-date assessment of the science on climate change. The report is the third in a series of three issued by the IPCC once every seven to eight years.
The reports form the basis for all climate policies of governments worldwide. The main message of the latest report is that the current strategy for fighting climate change is not sufficient. The report is made up of 17 chapters, which are divided into five sections: Introduction and frameworks; emission trends; scenarios and pathways; sectors; institutional dimensions and conclusions. Fortunately, the uniqueness of this IPCC report is that it not only emphasises on the necessity, but also shows us where possibilities and opportunities are to realise this goal. The chart below shows the four GHGs that are tracked in the report between 1990-2019. The table shows the 2019 emissions levels, the increase in annual emissions since 1990 and the emissions in 2019 relative to 1990.
Source: IPCC (2022) Figure SPM.1.
Previous pledges by countries to tackle their emissions are insufficient to keep global warming below 1.5℃. Global emissions increased on average 1.3% each year during the last decade. If the current situation remains, the earth is heading for a warming of about 3.2℃ by 2100. This would have devastating consequences for our planet and its inhabitants, so the urge to take action now to prevent this from happening is high. The report outlines various ways to limit warming to 1.5℃ by 2100, all of which require deep emissions reductions over the next few decades. CO₂ and all GHG emissions must peak between 2020 and 2025, with CO₂ emissions declining by 25-50% by 2030 relative to 2020 levels. In this report, authors outline how these emissions cuts could be achieved, including substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, energy efficiency, electrification, use of renewables and the use of alternative energy carriers, such as hydrogen.
For the first time, the report dedicates a chapter to Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), the process that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The report states that CDR will be unavoidable to reach net-zero emissions. In this chapter, the importance of implementing demand-side solutions to minimise the need for CDR is emphasised. This includes, among others, changing diets and consumption patterns, which can have a significant impact on CO₂ emissions. In Carbon Brief, the importance of this strategy is explained. There is high confidence that reducing demand for pollutants would significantly reduce the challenge of mitigation overall. Two well known examples are using clean transport options such as public transportation, biking, walking and shifting to a plant-based diet. They require less land and water than meat-based diets and generate significantly lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions intensity of different protein-rich foods, in kgCO2e per 100g protein is illustrated in the figure below.
Source: IPCC Figure 12.6
Nevertheless, the report's conclusion is highly encouraging; by 2050, we could see a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions thanks to demand-side strategies. Additionally, the Covid-19 lockdowns have shown that behavioural change on a massive scale is possible in a short time frame. The report found that by making low-carbon choices, such as reducing energy consumption and switching to low-carbon technologies, the average person's carbon footprint could be reduced by up to 9 tCO₂.
The energy supply sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 34% of total emissions in 2019, according to the report. As expected, global warming cannot be limited to 2 or 1.5℃ without rapid and deep reductions in energy system CO₂ and GHG emissions. Thanks to rapid cost reductions in key technologies over the past decade, a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy sources is required. The report highlights the importance of renewable energy in achieving global climate goals and reducing emissions. Both solar and wind energy have become significantly cheaper in recent years. Solar energy costs 85% less than in 2010 and wind energy costs 55% less than in 2010. This makes these renewable energy sources an increasingly attractive option for businesses and consumers. Despite a significant increase in renewable energy sources, emissions from industrial activity and population growth have continued to grow, offsetting any reductions achieved through renewables.
This report is unique, because it acknowledges the potential for a paradigm shift in climate action. Prof Joyashree Roy: ‘If people are provided with opportunities to make choices supported by policies, infrastructure and technologies, there is an untapped mitigation potential to bring down global emissions by between 40 and 70% by 2050 compared to a baseline scenario’. This report identifies opportunities for all of us. Some of these possibilities include behavioural change (eating less meat and dairy, less energy use, using sustainable transport etc), political action, innovation, and international cooperation. It is clear that we need to act now if we want to ensure a sustainable future for all. Besides, limiting global warming to 2℃ could provide a significant economic benefit, according to the report. In particular, it says that the benefits of mitigation will exceed the costs.
In conclusion, our actions are relevant. We’re positively looking ahead at a year of progress. Coolset is here to help businesses identify opportunities to reduce emissions and lower their carbon footprint. Besides, we help investors analyse and monitor portfolio performance through a centralised dashboard. Together we can contribute positively to climate change and work on a sustainable future.
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