On Monday 4th April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – or IPCC – published its final report in the current assessment cycle, titled Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change.
It was the third report in this series. The first two reports told us that climate change is here and now and causing huge disruptions to the natural world and to human beings. This third report tells us we are still not doing enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but also provides advice on the action we can take to limit global warming.
As Solitaire Townsend, Chief Solutionist and Co-Founder of Futerra, so aptly broke down the three reports on Twitter:
IPCC 1 was about ‘what fucked it’
IPCC 2 was about ‘exactly how fucked is it’
And IPCC 3 was about ‘how do we unfuck it’.
For those confused by the different Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports;
IPCC 1 – what fucked it?
IPCC 2 – exactly how fucked is it?
IPCC 3 – how do we unfuck it?
Tomorrow we get IPCC 3 – which is fucking important.
— Solitaire Townsend (@GreenSolitaire) April 3, 2022
So that’s the whole podcast episode, that’s all you need to know.
Today, on this bonus episode of Easy Being Green?, my intention is to break down the latest report into as bite-sized and digestible chunks as possible.
The information in this podcast is taken from the IPCC Launch Press conference, which is available on YouTube and I will link to it in the show notes (also referenced at the end of this article).
Let’s start with…
What on earth is the IPCC and its reports?
The IPCC is the United Nations’ climate-science-focused organisation.
Since 1988, the IPCC has been providing governments and policymakers at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. The Panel’s reports are released every seven years or so, and are a vital element in international climate change negotiations.
The IPCC is an organisation of governments that are members of the United Nations or World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The Panel currently has 195 members, but thousands of people from all over the world contribute to its work.
It’s this level of contribution and review that make these reports so credible.
For reports like the one released this week, IPCC scientists volunteer their time to assess thousands of scientific papers published each year, to provide a comprehensive summary of what is known about the drivers of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and how adaptation and mitigation can reduce those risks.
Each report is said to be open, transparent, objective and complete, and is reviewed by experts and governments around the world. The IPCC does not conduct its own research, rather its assessments identify the strength of scientific agreement in different areas and indicate where further research is needed.
So, for example, in the Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change report, 18,000 scientific publications were assessed and 278 authors from 65 countries were involved.
Then there is the review process. Climate Change 2022 received more than 59,212 expert and government review comments.
So this is not just one person’s opinion, or one university’s study. It’s peer-reviewed, by hundreds of scientists from all over the world.
What did this latest report from the IPCC tell us?
Well, it looks at what we – and by we, I mean corporations, governments and citizens – can do to limit and prevent the human-caused emissions that cause global warming. The report looks at where our emissions come from, and examines how, as our global society has changed over time, so too have our emissions.
- 42% of all accumulated global GHG emissions have occurred since 1990.
- Average annual greenhouse gas emissions over the last 10 years were the highest in human history.
- And we are not on track to limit warming to less than 1.5 degrees.
However; there are options to reduce our emissions across all aspects of society, from how we use energy to power our homes, to how sustainable our buildings are, to our transport, how we travel and beyond.
The report shows how the decisions we make today and in the coming decades will shape our planet’s future.
This particular report, however, was the first one from the IPCC that included an in-depth assessment of how human behaviour, choices and consumption can contribute to climate change mitigation. So we are very used to the opposite – reports and articles about how human behaviour, choices and consumption contribute to climate change. But now, we are being given some SOLUTIONS. Hurrah! We are being collectively advised on actions we can take to mitigate climate change.
These actions span across our culture and lifestyle choices, transportation, what we buy and eat, how we use land for food and energy – and to remove carbon from the atmosphere – and so on; and how through financing and investments for Net Zero economies, cooperation across borders, developing effective policies and harnessing technology and innovation we can build a sustainable future for all.
Speaking about the report at its broadcasted launch on Monday, 4th April, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it revealed “a litany of broken climate promises” by governments and corporations, accusing them of stoking global warming by clinging to harmful fossil fuels. He said we are “on track towards an unlivable world and climate disaster”, that “governments and business leaders are saying one thing and doing another” and “choking our planet” with investments in fossil fuels, when cheaper renewable solutions provide green jobs, energy security and greater price stability.
So that’s all the bad news, which perhaps isn’t much of a surprise, unfortunately.
Before we get into it further, here is the good news from the report
The average annual rate of growth in emissions has slowed in the last decade because of actions taken particularly in the energy and industry sections. But still, immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors is needed to limit rises to 1.5’C.
But this report is about mitigation, so … what exactly do we need to do to stay at 1.5’C?
Frst quickly, let me address WHY we need to stay at 1.5’C.
1.5 degrees maybe doesn’t seem significant, when we think that the weather reports daily temperature fluctuations of temperatures, for example, this week, where I am, the temperatures are forecast to range between 11’C and 15’C. But when we talk about 1.5 degrees of global warming, what we’re talking about is the increase in the Earth’s average temperature, which is measured from a baseline average temperature from when the Industrial Revolution began, so around the mid-to-late nineteenth century. This is when society started burning fossil fuels at a much faster rate than before, and that was the beginning of climate change as we know it today. The Earth is already 1.1 degrees Celsius hotter than it was 150 years ago.
This warming is not equal across the world, some places are heating up quicker than others.
The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, which results in younger, thinner ice that covers less area than it has in the past. The changes in the ice in these areas have a knock on effect on the food chain, the foundation of the marine ecosystem. Warming temperatures also mean land snow cover is decreasing and river discharge is increasing. The warming of the arctic correlates with extreme weather conditions across the rest of the world.
An increase in average temperature of above 1.5 degrees will see sea levels rise by 1 to 3 feet by 2100. That’s only 78 years away. My dad is older than that. Sea levels rising will see small island nations around the world become inhabitable.
Extreme weather and ‘once in a lifetime’ storms will become more common, bringing more flooding, hurricanes and the devastation and destruction that comes with that. At 3 degrees of warming, these storms will become commonplace, which will make much of the currently inhabited world uninhabitable.
An increase in average temperature of above 1.5 degrees will also see coral reefs, like the beautiful one off the coast of Australia, almost completely dying off, as oceans absorb excess heat from climate change. This latest IPCC report warned than without action, greenhouse gas emissions will proceed to 3 degrees, double the current target.
So, back to what we have to do, according to the IPCC Climate Change 2022 report, to stay below or at an average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees celsius.
This is where Net Zero comes in. Because while we can’t change what has already happened, once we hit Net Zero carbon dioxide emissions (that is when the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere), temperatures will stabilise. That means we can stay below a 1.5’C rise.
Firstly, we need to triple the shift to renewable energy and end funding of coal abroad and at home. The great thing about renewable energy, apart from that it’s renewable, is that it’s already far cheaper than fossil fuels. With the cost of oil, gas and electricity skyrocketing, that can only be a good thing.
Renewable energy can also be created in many more places around the world, not just where there are oil or gas reserves, so there are a whole host of other political benefits to making the shift to renewable energy.
Changes to the energy industry can also help with mitigation, such as using low or no-carbon energy systems, improving energy efficiency, using alternative fuels, such as hydrogen and sustainable biofuels, and decentralising energy networks – that means, generating energy away from the main grid, through energy from waste plants, combined heating and power, district heating and cooling and using micro-renewables (which are small-scale, non-commercial renewable energy systems which use zero or low- carbon technologies to provide space heating, hot water and/or electricity).
For the first time in these reports, the IPCC included information on ‘demands and services’, which explores how people’s behaviour, and the choices they are offered, can help cut emissions by a potential 40-70% by 2050. These include things like walking, cycling, electrified transport, reducing air travel and adapting houses. Of course, systemic changes, such as decreasing the cost of public transport – like making it cheaper to take the train than fly – and improving public transport in general will help support this. The report also acknowledged that some people require additional housing, energy and resources for human wellbeing, and that wealthier individuals have the highest potential to influence reductions, as investors, consumers, role models and professionals.
The report also covered the use of land, for both large-scale emissions reductions, and for the removal and storage of carbon dioxide, for example, by protecting and restoring natural ecosystems like forests, peatlands, coastal wetlands, savannas and grasslands, which are carbon sinks.
Other areas for mitigation included using materials more efficiently in industry, and reusing, recycling, minimising waste; and better urban planning in cities and urban areas.
To achieve all this:
- Investment is needed. We need to pour the world’s money into climate solutions. 3-6x as much as current levels is needed by 2030 to limit warming below 1.5 to 2 degrees, which can be achieved by responsible investment approaches to emerging market investments and will be much less costly if we do it now, than if we wait any longer. The report states that there is sufficient global capital and liquidity to close these investments gaps – to me, it feels like this is about putting the money in the right places (like renewable energy and new technologies), instead of the wrong places (like fossil fuels and weapons of mass destruction).
- There must be policy, regulatory and economic transformation. Changes in policy and regulations have already proven effective in reducing emissions and achieving systemic change. For effective and ambitious mitigation, coordination across government and society is essential. This means involving everyone in planning, attention to equity and justice, and drawing on Indigenous and local knowledge.
So what does that mean for individuals and businesses. What action should we be taking?
The answer is – whatever and as much as you can. There is a place for all of us in the climate movement. Apathy will get us nowhere, but collective action can.
Take a read through the climate report or watch the launch for a summary – I will link both in the show notes. They include practical, doable actions – big and small – that businesses can take to mitigate climate change.
And as individuals, keep demanding change. I think the key takeaway for me from this report – or perhaps, mainly from the strong words said by IPCC panel members in the launch of the report – is that Leaders must Lead. That the rich, powerful and influential have the most responsibility, resources and opportunity to influence the reduction of emissions.
But that doesn’t mean the rest of us are off the hook. It’s up to us to demand change, to vote for the planet, to push those in power to invest in the right areas, create the right policies and regulations, to transform our economy into one that can be sustainable.
I’ll wrap this up with the summary that the co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III, Jim Skea, provided:
“We know what to do
We know how to do it
And now it’s up to us to take action.
The longer we put off action, the bigger the feasibility challenges will be.”
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