Global greenhouse gas emissions have to peak by 2025 and then fall by 43% by 2030 in order to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which published on Monday.
While such a scenario is technically possible, it will require transformative political action and solidarity around the world. In fact, the authors of the report note that the money, science, and technology is available now to achieve such a transition, but that status quo politics and special interest groups are the only things standing in the way.
“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 Hoesung Lee, the IPCC chair, in a press release. “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries.
“There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective,” he said. “If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”
The AR6 Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change report reviews the various sources of greenhouse gas emissions and analyzes ways that countries can mitigate or reduce them. Major sectors covered include energy use, cities, transportation, industry, agriculture, forestry, land use, and food systems.
The report seesaws between promising signs of progress and disappointing, business-as-usual trends.
The latest @IPCC_CH report is a litany of broken climate promises.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) April 4, 2022
Some government & business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another.
They are lying.
It is time to stop burning our planet. https://t.co/xzccxqwvhE
For example, the rate of emissions growth has slowed in recent years, from 2.1% per year in the 2000s to 1.3% per year in the 2010s, but emissions are currently at their highest aggregate rate ever. In fact, if the amount of emissions released over the past decade is emulated over the next decade, the entire remaining carbon budget for 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming will be used up.
Although 24 countries have reduced their emissions every year for at least a decade, these reductions have been more than offset by emissions growth elsewhere, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Even as emissions dropped by 45% during the COVID-19 pandemic, countries failed to capitalize on these trends, even supporting fossil fuel use in recovery packages, which caused emissions to rebound.
The technologies needed to decarbonize both the transportation and industrial sectors are ready for mass deployment, but an ongoing lack of investment has hampered the transition, and even led to sector-wide emissions increases.
“The report shows that reducing emissions at the speed and scale required to limit warming to 2 degrees [Celsius] or below implies deep economic changes that could increase inequality between and within countries,” Celine Guivarch, a lead author of the report focusing on energy transitions, said in a statement.
“But policies can be designed to avoid increasing or even decrease economic inequality and poverty,” she added. “This entails broadening access to clean technologies and international finance. In applying just transition principles to integrate considerations of equity and justice into policies at all scales and enable accelerated mitigation action.”
While overall forest cover has increased over the past decade, rates of deforestation are accelerating in many parts of the world, including in the Amazon rainforest.
Markets for accurately pricing carbon dioxide emissions have grown, but the vast majority of overall emissions remain priced far below their actual costs, and are even subsidized by governments.
And while the Paris climate agreement has received more traction and support in recent years, governmental commitments under the framework remain inadequate to prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius of temperature rise.
The report identifies dozens of areas for minimizing emissions in the years ahead.
First and foremost, subsidies and government investments in fossil fuels need to come to an end immediately, and existing oil, gas, and coal infrastructure needs to be dismantled and converted as soon as possible.
The most significant and cost-effective emissions reductions can be achieved by investing in solar and wind energy, which have become far cheaper and more accessible over the past decade. The cost of batteries for renewable energy storage have also plummeted.
Nature-based solutions offer a lot of potential, according to the report, especially regenerative agriculture, reforestation, fire management, and conservation.
“Agriculture, forestry, and other land use contribute 22% of global emissions,” Mercedes Bustamante, a lead author of the report focusing on forest conservation, nature-based solutions, and options for developing countries, said in a statement. “This sector can not only provide large-scale reductions of emissions but can also remove and store CO2 at scale.”
She added: “Well-designed land-based mitigation options to remove carbon can also benefit biodiversity and ecosystems, help us adapt to climate change, secure livelihoods, improve food and water security. Options include protecting and restoring natural ecosystems such as forests, peatlands, wetlands, savannas, and grasslands.”
A worldwide shift toward plant-based diets would significantly reduce emissions and protect biodiversity, while investing in public transportation and energy efficiency within vehicles are some of the cheapest options right now.
Narratives around the climate crisis often have a fatalist streak, suggesting that doomsday scenarios of environmental apocalypse are all-but-inevitable. But the latest IPCC report shows that the future is within our collective control, and that a just transition away from fossil fuels and toward environmental sustainability can be achieved.
“Climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production,” said Jim Skea, IPCC Working Group III co-chair, in a press release. “This report shows how taking action now can move us toward a fairer, more sustainable world.”