Highlights from the UN IPCC Report on Climate Change Mitigation

More aggressive climate policy is needed to keep global warming under 2°C.

By Asiyah Choudry

April 28, 2022

floating ice

Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the Mitigation of Climate Change. The nearly 3,000-page report examines progress on global climate change mitigation efforts, including the Paris Climate Agreement. Overall, the report suggests that current climate change mitigation efforts are not aggressive enough to limit warming below 1.5°C.

 

Let’s take a look at six key findings from the report.

1. Greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high

In 2019, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reached 59 gigatons. That’s a 12% increase from 2010 and a 54% increase from 1990. The largest contributor to growth in GHG emissions came from CO2 from industrial activity and fossil fuels. While emissions are on the rise, the rate of growth is slowing. From 2000 to 2009 average annual growth in GHG emissions was 2.1%. This has fallen to a 1.3% increase per year between 2010 and 2019.

 

Despite substantial growth in emissions, responsibility is not equally divided across the globe. Least Developed Countries (LDCs) accounted for only 3.3% of global emissions in 2019. There is also a significant discrepancy in household emissions, with the highest-emitting 10% of households accounting for 35-45% of household emissions and the lowest-emitting 50% of households responsible for 13-15% of emissions.

off shore wind farm in ocean

2. Low-emission technology is becoming more cost-effective

Over the past decade, the cost of renewables and other low-carbon technology has continued to fall. Since 2010, the unit costs of solar, wind, and lithium-ion batteries have declined by 85%, 55%, and 85%, respectively. Alongside falling costs, uptake of these technologies has grown substantially. From 2010 to 2019, solar deployment increased tenfold, while electric vehicle deployment increased a hundredfold. This growth in adoption is attributed in part to policy initiatives, including government-sponsored research and development and subsidies. However, there is regional variation in the deployment of low-carbon tech, with barriers like finance continuing to limit cost-effectiveness and adoption rates in the developing world.

3. Building sector emissions will approach net-zero by 2050

Reducing building sector emissions is contingent on effective policy, which is based on the Sufficiency, Efficiency, Renewables (SER) framework. In addition, reducing decarbonization barriers such as financial constraints and principal/agent challenges for rental properties will be a necessary step in achieving net-zero by mid-century. In developed countries, retrofitting existing buildings has the highest potential for abating carbon emissions in the building sector. The report estimates that in Europe and North America, mitigation potential could be as high as 85%.

manufacturing plant with emissions

4. Carbon dioxide removal will be necessary to achieve net-zero

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) refers to human activities which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through practices like reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, or carbon capture technology. The benefit of CDR is that it helps to mitigate emissions that are hardest to address like those from aviation and industrial activity. In these sectors, further technological development is needed to facilitate a shift towards electrification or low-carbon fuels like green hydrogen.

 

In the long term, CDR can facilitate net-negative GHG emissions if it is used to abate a greater quantity of CO2 than is emitted. CDR approaches vary in maturity, capacity for carbon removal, and duration of storage, lasting decades to thousands of years.

5. Current climate policies are not sufficient

Even if governments successfully reach their Nationally Determined Contributions as outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, this may not be enough to limit warming below 1.5°C. In fact, the report suggests that it is “likely” that global warming will surpass 1.5°C by 2030. As a result, it will be more challenging to reach the global target of keeping warming below 2°C. Without a strengthening of global climate policies, the world is on track to reach 3.2°C of warming by 2100.

government building

6. Emissions mitigation potential associated with demand-side strategies and climate finance

The unique analysis in this report demonstrates the potential that demand-side behaviors and financial flows have in limiting global warming. The report estimates that 40-70% of emissions could be mitigated by 2050 through the implementation of demand-side initiatives such as switching to plant-based diets or low-carbon transportation.

 

Furthermore, the report states that there is a “climate financing gap.” Banks and other financiers continue to be heavily involved in fossil fuels, in direct misalignment with commitments to boost climate-friendly financing. Finance is crucial to facilitating the low-carbon transition. To date, 90% of climate financing has gone towards climate change mitigation (e.g., renewables, transportation, and energy efficiency). There is a need for greater financing of adaptation measures, such as flood defenses, to help build resilience and reduce the disaster risk associated with climate change.

a picture of the world from space

Pathways for Climate Change Mitigation

The report outlines pathways for mitigation for the near-mid term (i.e., now to 2050), recommending two avenues for addressing climate change:

 

  1. Accelerating mitigation: The report recommends that nations adopt several policy measures to accelerate the rate of climate change mitigation. These include decarbonization of the energy supply, energy efficiency, electrification of transportation, reductions in the use of fossil fuels, shifting to low or no carbon fuels like hydrogen, promoting demand-side policies like plant-based diets, and establishing targets for reducing methane.
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  3. Broadening mitigation: The report recommends focusing on shifting national development towards improved sustainability to increase the scope of climate change mitigation efforts.

To conclude, it is clear that we aren’t acting quickly enough when it comes to climate change mitigation. While global efforts to address climate change have slowed growth in GHG emissions, they continue to increase year after year. Promising developments in renewable energy and electric vehicles are helping to pave the way to a more sustainable future. However, some avenues like climate finance and demand-side policy remain untapped.

 

If you’re looking to learn more about the impact of finance on our planet, check out our article that explores how you can fight climate change with your personal finances.

climate protest sign

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