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Climate action increasingly evident: IPCC

The latest IPCC report on mitigation shows increasing evidence of climate action worldwide, raising hopes among climate scientists and policymakers. But adaptation is equally required to help curtain increasing climate catastrophes in this century, another recent report on adaptation has recommended

Climate scientists become hopeful with the latest IPCC report that addresses global climate mitigation trends as climate action is increasingly evident, but immediate and deep reductions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across all sectors must be seriously implemented to limit global warming to 1.5C as well as its impacts.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched the latest report under its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change, early this month after it was approved by 195 member governments. This is the third in a series of AR6 produced by the IPCC’s Working Group III and it will be completed this year.

According to the report, the rate of growth of average annual global GHG emissions has slowed over the past decade (2010-2019), from 2.1% between 2000 and 2009 to 1.3%, but still, the emissions over the period were at their highest level in human history. (The annual average during the decade of 2010-2019 was around 56 (+-6) GtCO2e, 9.1 GtCO2e higher than in 2000-2009, and the highest increase in average decadal emissions on record.)

Credit: IPCC

Throughout the history, cumulative net CO2 emissions from 1850 to 2019 were 2400 (+-240) GtCO2, according to the IPCC. Of these, 58% or around 1400 (+-195) GtCO2 occurred between 1850 to 1989, and about 42% or another 1000 (+-90) GtCO2 occurred from 1990 to 2019 (about 17% or 410 (+-30) GtCO2 occurred during the past decade, or 2010 to 2019).

The current estimate of the remaining carbon budget from 2020 onwards for limiting warming to 1.5C has been assessed as 500 GtCO2, and as 1,150 GtCO2 for limiting warming to 2C. The remaining carbon budgets (+-220 GtCO2) depend on the amount of non-CO2 mitigation.

Based on the estimates, cumulative net CO2 emissions between 2010-2019 are about four-fifths of the size of the remaining carbon budget from 2020 onwards for limiting global warming to 1.5C already, and about one-third of the remaining carbon budget for 2C.

Without immediate and deep emissions reductions “across all sectors”, limiting global warming to 1.5C is beyond reach, the report noted.

Climate scientists who have assessed the latest trends of climate change for the report, however, remain hopeful, saying, there is increasing evidence of climate action. For instance, since 2010, there have been sustained decreases of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy, as well as batteries. More critically, an increasing range of policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation, and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy, according to their findings.

“I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.

“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,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.

Credit: IPCC

Energy sector

To limit global warming, major transitions in the energy sector, which contributes to the largest share of GHG emissions in 2019, or 34%, are required. ( This is followed by industry at 24%, agriculture, forestry and land use at 22%, transport at 15%, and buildings at 5.6%.)

This will involve a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and the use of alternative fuels (such as hydrogen), the IPCC mitigation report recommended.

“Having the right policies, infrastructure, and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Prof. Priyadarshi Shukla. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”

In the scenario assessed, limiting warming to around 1.5C requires GHG emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030. At the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if this is done, it is almost inevitable that the world will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to below it by the end of the century, according to the assessment.

“It’s now or never if we want to limit global warming to 1.5C,”  said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Prof. Jim Skea. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

The global temperature will stabilise when CO2 emissions reach net zero. For 1.5C, this means achieving net-zero CO2 emissions globally in the early 2050s and for 2C, it is in the early 2070s. The assessment by the scientists also shows that limiting warming to around 2C still requires global GHG emissions to similarly peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by a quarter by 2030.

Aside from huge efforts in the energy sector, reducing emissions in the industry sector will also be required, and this involves using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimising waste, the scientists have recommended in the report.

For basic materials, including steel, building materials and chemicals, low- to zero-greenhouse gas production processes are at their pilot to the near-commercial stage, they noted. This sector accounts for about a quarter of global emissions. Achieving net-zero will be challenging and will require new production processes, low and zero-emissions electricity, hydrogen, and, where necessary, carbon capture and storage, they further noted.

For agriculture, forestry, and other land use or known as LULUCF, they can provide large-scale emissions reductions and also remove and store carbon dioxide at scale. However, land cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors, the scientists noted in the report.

Last but not least is the sector involving cities and other urban areas, which also offer significant opportunities for emissions reductions, they have remarked. These can be achieved through lower energy consumption, such as by creating compact or walkable cities, electrification of transport in combination with low-emission energy sources, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature. There are options for established, rapidly growing and new cities, they said.

“We see examples of zero energy or zero-carbon buildings in almost all climates,” Prof. Skea said. “Action in this decade is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.”

The scientists have also looked beyond technologies and demonstrated that while financial flows are a factor of three to six times lower than levels needed by 2030 to limit warming to below 2C, there is sufficient global capital and liquidity to close investment gaps.

However, this relies on clear signalling from governments and the international community, including a stronger alignment of public sector finance and policy, they pointed out.

“Without taking into account the economic benefits of reduced adaptation costs or avoided climate impacts, global GDP would be just a few percentage points lower in 2050 if we take the actions necessary to limit warming to 2C or below, compared to maintaining current policies,” said Prof. Shukla.

Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change

Credit: IPCC

Adaptation challenges

In late February, the IPCC also launched the report concerning adaptation efforts. According to the scientists’ findings, they agreed that human-induced climate change is causing “dangerous and widespread” disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world despite efforts to reduce the risks.

More critically, people and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, according to the scientists assessing the efforts worldwide for the IPCC Report on adaptation, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.

“The report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Chair of the IPCC, Hoesung Lee. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”

This report noted that the world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5C and even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.

It further noted that increased heatwaves, droughts, and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals.

“These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic,” noted the report.

To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the report pointed out.

Progress on adaptation, however, is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations, the report further pointed out.

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The options

Nevertheless, there are options to adapt to a changing climate, the report pointed out, citing nature’s potential which is seen not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives.

“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”

The scientists working on this report pointed out that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and a pandemic, jeopardizing future development.

“Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone_governments, the private sector, civil society_working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts. “In this way, different interests, values and world views can be reconciled. By bringing together scientific and technological know-how as well as Indigenous and local knowledge, solutions will be more effective. Failure to achieve climate-resilient and sustainable development will result in a sub-optimal future for people and nature.”

The report also clearly states that “Climate Resilient Development”, or a solutions framework that combines strategies to adapt to climate change with actions to reduce GHG emissions to support sustainable development for everyone involved, is already challenging at current warming levels.

It will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5C and impossible in some regions if global warming exceeds 2C, the report pointed out.

Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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The chief’s responses

Reacting to the latest findings of the IPCC, UN Secretary-General Secretary-General António Guterres insisted as reported by UN News that unless governments everywhere reassess their energy policies, the world will be uninhabitable.

Unless action is taken soon, some major cities will be under water, Mr. Guterres said in a video message, which also forecasts “unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals”.

“This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of “more than double the 1.5-degree limit” that was agreed in Paris in 2015”, voiced the UN chief.

On the adaptation side, the UN chief called the IPCC’s adaptation report an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

He said; “Adaptation and mitigation must be pursued with equal force and urgency. That’s why I have been pushing to get to 50 per cent of all climate finance for adaptation. We need new eligibility systems to deal with this new reality. 

“The delay means death.”

Also read: Analysis: What the new IPCC report says about how to limit warming to 1.5C or 2C