- Global greenhouse emissions should peak by 2025 “at the latest” and be reduced by 43 percent by 2030, to limit global warming to around 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
- In 2010-2019, average annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels were the highest in human history; but the rate of growth has slowed. Immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors are needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius.
- Only the abrupt acceleration of global emissions reductions after 2030 would give us a good chance of keeping the temperature below 2 degree Celsius. However, the more we exceed 1.5 degree Celsius, the more difficult and more expensive it will be to return to below 1.5 degree Celsius.
- Many mitigation measures, such as electrification of public transport vehicles, are feasible and affordable to scale up climate action. Digital technology, including the Internet of Things, supports decarbonisation only if appropriately governed. The current flow of finance is insufficient and to ramp up climate action, it needs to be “three to six times greater” than the current financial flows.
Pointing to increased evidence for climate action, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that the global greenhouse emissions should peak by 2025 “at the latest” and be reduced by 43 percent by 2030, to limit global warming to around 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The panel also notes that methane would need to be reduced by about a third. “Even if we do this, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to below it by the end of the century,” it states. The global temperature will stabilize when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero. For 1.5 degree Celsius, this means achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2 degree Celsius, it is in the early 2070s.
The report Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change by ‘Working Group III’ is the third and concluding installment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). It examines current trends of emissions, projected levels of future warming, and how to transition to a low carbon economy in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius by 2100, in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement targets.
Joyashree Roy, Coordinating Lead Author on Chapter 5, Demand, Services and Social Aspects of Mitigation, stressed that the next few years are going to be very critical when the countries are deciding on scaling up or accelerating the mitigation actions. “So this is true, globally, as well as for individual countries and also at any local scale including at the state level,” Roy said in a press briefing.
“The report is very clear in sending out the message that unless there are immediate and deep GHGs emissions reductions across all sectors and regions, 1.5 degree Celsius is beyond reach. However, various modeling results in this report shows that it is theoretically possible to limit warming to 1.5 degree Celsius but considering globally the current action pledged until 2030 in all its dimensions: scale, scope and pace is not enough,” Roy told Mongabay-India.
The report is clear that we are “not on track” to avoid substantially exceeding the 1.5 degree Celsius increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels, making it impossible to limit warming to 1.5 degree Celsius by 2100. “In fact, only the abrupt acceleration of global emissions reductions after 2030 would give us a good chance of keeping temperature below 2 degree Celsius. However, the more we exceed 1.5 degree Celsius, the more difficult and more expensive it will be to return to below 1.5 degree Celsius. Every small increase in warming leads to further impacts,” Roy explained in an email.
The report underscores that 2010-2019 saw the highest increase in average decadal emissions in human history; but the rate of growth has slowed. On average, humans emitted 56GtCO2eq per year over that period. Human-caused GHG emissions reached 59 GtCO2eq (Gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2019, the highest level since 1990, primarily driven by fossil fuels and industry, although emissions were up across all sectors.
About 34 percent of human emissions came from the energy supply sector, 24 percent from industry, 22 percent from agriculture, forestry and land use, 15 pecrent from transport and 6 percent from buildings.
“It is possible to achieve emissions reductions through a combination of technologies, better practices, and changes in demand,” said Roy. In an example of technology innovation process and the role of public policy support in climate action, the panel said the policy guidance by the Indian government, which also promoted the development of data, testing capabilities and knowledge within the country’s private sector, has shaped the success of an energy-efficiency programme for air conditioners and refrigerators.
Demand-side changes, that is changes relating to the amount of goods and services that people buy or use, cannot deliver the net-zero goal on their own, pointed out Roy.
“Individual choice alone can make only a modest contribution to reducing GHG emissions and this is insufficient unless it is linked to structural and cultural changes that make it easier for people to lead low-carbon lifestyles. These structural changes required for behaviour change are across transport, industry, buildings and food – in other words, every aspect of society,” she said.
“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”
However, progress on the alignment of financial flows towards the goals of the Paris Agreement remains slow and tracked climate finance flows are distributed unevenly across regions and sectors. To ramp up climate action, it needs to be “three to six times greater” than the current financial flows.
Evidence and opportunities for climate action
The panel called for “major transitions” in the energy sector involving a “substantial reduction” in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and the use of alternative fuels (such as hydrogen) to limit global warming.
“New urban forms that are compact, energy-efficient, adopt circular economy principles and promote green spaces are imagined in the IPCC report. India, which is yet to meet developmental aspirations of energy and infrastructure needs, should encourage green construction materials, designs that accommodate green and blue spaces, and provide natural cooling, particularly in the cities,” Indu Murthy, Sector Head – Climate, Environment and Sustainability at CSTEP, Bengaluru, told Mongabay-India. She was not associated with the report.
Agriculture, forestry, and other land use 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. Response options can benefit biodiversity, help us adapt to climate change, and secure livelihoods, food and water, and wood supplies.
The panel pointed out that many mitigation measures, such as electrification of public transport vehicles, are feasible and affordable to scale up climate action. Innovative policy packages have cut the unit cost of several low-emission technologies and promoted their global adoption. In India, electrification, hydrogen and biofuels are keys to decarbonising the transport sector.
Digital technologies can contribute to decarbonisation, climate mitigation and the achievement of several SDGs but only if appropriately governed because digitalisation involves several trade-offs such as increasing e-waste, negative impacts on labour markets, and may worsen the existing digital divide.
“For example, sensors, Internet of Things, robotics, and artificial intelligence can improve energy management in all sectors, increase energy efficiency, and promote the adoption of many low-emission technologies, including decentralised renewable energy, while creating economic opportunities. However, some of these climate change mitigation gains can be reduced or counterbalanced by growth in demand for goods and services due to the use of digital devices,” it said.
Densely populated countries such as India, Germany and Japan are exploring the use of information technology and Internet of Things (IoT) to support mode-shifting and reduce mobility demand through broader behaviour and lifestyle changes. India’s transport sector strategies also include the use of information technology and the internet, a transition to sharing of economy and increasing infrastructure investment. Behaviour and lifestyle changes along with stakeholder engagement in decision-making are considered key to implementing new transport policies, the panel said.
In a promising signal for renewables, the panel notes that there has been sustained decreases in the unit costs of solar energy (85 percent), wind energy (55 percent), and lithium-ion batteries (85 percent), since 2010, and large increases in their deployment, for example >10x for solar, and >100x for electric vehicles.
India’s solar programme, a key element in its Nationally Determined Contribution, illustrates that concerns about mitigation are already being introduced in national development plans in tune with development pathways and strategies for synergistic benefits. The programme in the long-run can not only provide energy and contribute to climate mitigation, it can also lead to economic growth, improve energy access and employment opportunities, if policy measures are carefully planned and implemented. However, the environmental implications of the transition need to be carefully examined with regard to the socio-economic implications in light of the potential of alternatives like green hydrogen, nuclear or carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).
The panel emphasized that modelled mitigation strategies to achieve emissions reductions include transitioning from fossil fuels without Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to very low- or zero-carbon energy sources, such as renewables or fossil fuels with CCS, demand-side measures and improving efficiency, reducing non-CO2 emissions, and deploying carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods to counterbalance residual GHG emissions.
“Coal use without carbon capture and storage would have to fall by about three quarters (58-92 percent) by 2030, but we will continue to use oil and gas until at least mid-century. However, to meet the entire energy demand, the report is clear the world cannot just rely on electricity. Other fuels like hydrogen and biofuels will be needed for shipping, aviation, and other sectors where it is harder to use electricity,” Joyashree Roy explained.
In the case of India’s electricity sector, some studies indicate that CCS would be necessary, while others do not – citing concerns around its feasibility due to limited potential sites and issues related to socio-political acceptance. The studies that suggest staying away from CCS point to a very ambitious increase in renewable energy, which in turn could pose significant challenges in systematically integrating renewable energy into the current energy systems. Existing studies acknowledge limitations of CCS including uncertain costs, lifecycle and net emissions, other biophysical resource needs and social acceptance, the report underlined.
Banner image: Solar power park in Telangana. Photo by Thomas Llyod Group/Wikimedia Commons.