IPCC: Hard and fast emissions cuts are needed to tackle climate crisis


4 Apr 2022

Image: © Delphotostock/Stock.adobe.com

The latest IPCC report says halving global emissions by 2030 is achievable – if we seize the opportunity. A group of researchers who contributed to the report explain what you need to know.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

The world has its best chance yet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly, but hard and fast cuts are needed across all sectors and nations to hold warming to safe levels, the global authority on the climate crisis says.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released today (4 April), says opportunities to affordably cut global emissions have risen sharply since the last assessment of this kind in 2014. But the need to act has also become far more urgent.

Future Human

The report is the definitive assessment of how well the world is doing in finding solutions to rising temperatures. We each contributed expertise to the report. Here, we explain key aspects of the findings and what it means for the world.

Earth remains on red alert

The report finds the world has made progress on emissions reduction over the last decade. Growth in greenhouse gas emissions slowed to 1.3pc per year in the 2010s, compared to 2.1pc in the 2000s.

But global emissions remain at record highs. If policy ambition does not ramp up immediately, warming will shoot past 1.5 degrees Celsius and be well on the way to 2 degrees Celsius – failing to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

Alarmingly, the world’s current policies put us on track for global warming of between 2.2 degrees Celsius and 3.5 degrees Celsius within 80 years. It’s far better than the 4 degrees Celsius or more feared about a decade ago, but still far from consistent with the Paris Agreement.

To have a 50pc chance of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by century’s end, global CO2 emissions must halve in a decade, reach net zero in the 2050s and go net negative thereafter.

Methane emissions would also have to halve by 2050 in these scenarios.

Halving global emissions by 2030 is viable and achievable, the IPCC says. But it requires an immediate step change in climate policy across all sectors, countries and levels of government. Rich nations must make the most rapid emissions reductions.

More than technology

The report is a comprehensive catalogue of what can be done – but has mostly not yet been done – to avert devastating climate change.

Some trends are encouraging. Some 36 countries have successfully cut greenhouse gas emissions over more than a decade. And opportunities to cut emissions affordably and cheaply have multiplied enormously since 2014, the report finds.

This is largely due to the plunging costs of renewables, which promises emissions reduction beyond the energy sector in areas such as manufacturing and heavy transport.

But change is not coming fast enough. The report confirms all energy efficiency gains in the last decade have been more than outpaced by economic and population growth.

Technology is not a silver bullet. To have a chance of halving global emissions by 2030, we must use fewer high-carbon products and adopt less emissions-intensive lifestyles. Like all other changes required, these cannot be incremental, the IPCC says.

No one gets left behind

In 2016, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – an action plan for people, planet and prosperity – came into effect.

Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations. And as the latest IPCC report emphasises, it cannot be achieved without effective climate action.

One Sustainable Development Goal explicitly focuses on tackling climate change. But climate action is linked to all other goals, including those relating to energy, cities, industry, land, water and people.

Emissions reduction policies must be inclusive and avoid unintended consequences such as exacerbating existing poverty and hunger. The transition to a low-carbon world should be equitable and leave no-one behind.

The IPCC report calls for both accelerated climate action and a just transition. This requires well-designed policies at all levels of government, and across all sectors. International cooperation is key.

Is the Paris Agreement working?

This report is the first to assess the Paris Agreement, which took effect from 2020. Under the agreement, countries submit and update pledges on emissions reduction and adapting to the changing climate.

For these pledges to be achieved globally, high-income countries must help other nations by providing finance, access to clean energy technologies, and other assistance and know-how.

The IPCC identified a shortfall in global climate finance. In particular, high-income countries missed their 2020 target to mobilise $100bn per year.

The Paris Agreement is a treaty but the pledges are voluntary. Countries set their own targets and can’t be forced to meet them. So, is it working?

According to this new report, it largely is – albeit slowly. For instance, it has encouraged nations such as Australia to make more ambitious emissions pledges. It has also enhanced transparency, enabling outside groups, such as those in civil society, to assess countries’ progress.

Other international mechanisms, such as global business partnerships and youth climate protests, are also driving change. But more must be done to halve emissions this decade.

Cities are central

The IPCC report found around 70pc of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are produced in cities and urban areas. This offers both challenges and opportunities for emissions reduction.

To date, more than 1,000 cities worldwide have signed up to net-zero emission goals. To fulfil the Paris Agreement, more cities must step up and work towards goals such as 100pc renewable energy, zero-carbon transport, decarbonising construction and improving waste management.

Developing countries are rapidly urbanising, which requires new housing and infrastructure. But doing so in a business-as-usual way could lead to substantial new emissions, the IPCC warns.

City leaders must embrace integrated planning and management to meet the climate challenge. This must be achieved while cities continue their important roles in maintaining social, economic and environmental well-being.

We need all hands on deck: businesses, communities, researchers and citizens.

Seize the opportunity

This latest report shows how the choices we make now will determine the fate of generations to come – and all life on this planet.

Humanity has already missed so many opportunities to stabilise Earth’s climate. We now have the chance to right some of those past wrongs.

Only an urgent, concerted effort across all sectors and nations, starting today, will deliver the change needed.

The Conversation

By Prof Tommy Wiedmann, Dr Arunima Malik, Dr Glen Peters, Prof Jacqueline Peel and Prof Xuemei Bai

Prof Tommy Wiedmann specialises in sustainability research at Australia’s UNSW Sydney. Dr Arunima Malik is senior lecturer in sustainability at the University of Sydney. Dr Glen Peters is research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo. Prof Jacqueline Peel is director of Melbourne Climate Futures at the University of Melbourne. Prof Xuemei Bai focuses on urban sustainability science and policy at the Australian National University.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.