Stockholm (NordSIP) – On 4 April, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the third instalment of its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). Whereas the first two working groups examined climate change from the physical science basis and impacts, and adaptation and vulnerability respectively, the contributions of Working Group III are dedicated to the topic of climate change mitigation. The IPCC’s meticulously reviewed reports aim to provide policymakers with the most up-to-date climate science consensus with a view to informing and accelerating decision making in the fight against the climate crisis. AR6 is expected to be concluded in September this year upon the release of a final synthesis report.
Tuning in to the official release of the report, NordSIP learns more about the lead scientists’ observations and conclusions as well as key messages from the governing bodies.
A rock-solid scientific foundation
Introducing the new instalment, Dr. Hoesung Lee, Chairperson of the IPCC, calls it the culmination of a ‘scientific trilogy’ that he hopes will be the solid foundation for fruitful climate negotiations at the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the UNFCCC that will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in November this year. He points out, however, that the organisation’s role is not to draft or overtly influence policy, but to provide a scientifically sound basis for policymakers to work from. This latest report involved 278 authors from 65 countries, 41% of whom came from developing countries. With input distilled from over 18,000 scientific papers it should lay to rest any lingering climate scepticism.
Given the current geopolitical situation and its far-reaching consequences, it can be challenging to keep priorities straight. Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) which is co-hosting the IPCC, acknowledges the significant impact of the war in Ukraine, threatening energy and food security. He worries, however, that progress in other important areas might get derailed due to the current situation. For instance the efforts of the WMO towards establishing weather early warning systems across the entire globe by 2028. According to Taalas, the coverage is still only at about 50%, with a particular lack in developing nations that must be addressed as a resilience priority.
Inger Andersen, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director hopes that the war in Ukraine will provide governments with another incentive to move away from fossil fuel dependency at COP27. “Otherwise, we will sleep-walk into climate catastrophe,” she says, pointing to another missed opportunity to reset the global economy towards low carbon solutions, the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are not doing enough,” claims Andersen. She is convinced, though, that we have the knowledge, technology and finance to address the problem, especially if there is also a focus on restoring the natural environment.
Towards effective solutions
Presenting the contents of the Mitigation of Climate Change report, the working group’s co-Chair Professor Jim Skea explains that while emissions are at an all-time high, there is increased evidence of positive climate action in the data. He mentions that the rate of increase is declining, especially in developed nations. However, despite this slightly optimistic note, Skea emphasises that without immediate and deep reductions in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) output we cannot hope to achieve the long-term goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. He is encouraged by the fact that 826 cities and 103 regions world-wide have committed to net-zero, and unit costs in the renewable energy sector are plummeting – often well below their equivalent in fossil fuels.
Working Group III Vice-Chair Professor Diana Urge-Vorsatz provides a high-level sector-by-sector overview of the mitigation actions that they have examined in the report. Energy provision must move away from fossil fuels where possible and otherwise invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS). The IPCC believes that climate goals cannot be achieved without the latter, although much of the related technology is still to be fully proven. Urge-Vorsatz also mentions hydrogen, sustainable biofuels, and decentralised energy grids as key areas for development. Investment in alternative energy sources must be accompanied by initiatives to reduce demand. The professor points out that, with lifestyle changes, retrofitting buildings, better urban planning, and electrified transport large reductions can be achieved, along with overall better quality of life. This can only happen if the right policy packages are implemented, according to her.
The crucial role of finance and technology
The investment flows into climate solutions are still far too low, according to Working Group III Vice-Chair Ramón Pichs-Madruga, but the money is theoretically available, especially if developed nations step up. Pichs-Madruga stresses the importance of policies, regulations, and other economic instruments in creating the right incentives for markets to channel capital into climate innovation and technology.
One of the working group’s conclusions is that more noise should be made of the wider benefits of climate change mitigation to society as a whole. The proposed measures are likely to benefit multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to professor Urge-Vorsatz, people need to understand that climate change mitigation can actually be achieved with a better quality of life rather than austerity. Jim Skea hopes that governments will use public money cleverly to encourage the much larger flows of private capital that are needed. This could take the form of loan guarantees or export credits to make projects investable and attractive to risk-averse institutions like pension funds.
Harsh words from the very top
At the IPCC event, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres issues a stark warning that “we are on the fast track to climate disaster due to a litany of broken climate promises.” Despite a “certain amount of naïve optimism emanating from COP26 in Glasgow”, Guterres warns of the persistent and worsening emissions gap that must be urgently closed. He believes “any new investment in fossil fuels is madness” and that governments must immediately move subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The Secretary General also highlights the importance of ecosystems and the natural environment in climate change mitigation and resilience.
The global scientific community has put an enormous effort into producing these all-encompassing reference materials for policymakers to rely on in their decision making. There really is no excuse for kicking the oil can further down the road at COP27.