To limit global warming, countries will need to substantially reduce the use of fossil fuels, pursue an electrified global energy power system, use clean renewable power, use nature-based solutions for capturing and storing carbon and make cities more energy-efficient, according to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This needs clear signalling by the governments and the international community, including stronger financial and policy support to reduce uncertainty and risks in transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to one dependent on renewable energy, as per the report. It is also imperative for countries to increase financing for climate adaptation and mitigation now, rather than paying for damage from climate events later, as per the report.

The report, released on April 4, is the third instalment of the Sixth Assessment Report cycle of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. Over 278 authors from 75 countries contributed to this report and 195 member governments approved it.

The earlier Working Group II report on climate change impacts, released in February, had warned that the impact of climate change will continue to worsen if drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are further delayed and that there will be an even smaller window of opportunity to secure a liveable, sustainable future on earth.

The latest report focuses on the mitigation of climate change by laying out how the world can remain within that window of opportunity.

The report notes that limiting warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030. This means that climate action should start now and the next few years are more critical than ever.

Global emissions were at 59 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, 12% and 54% higher than in 2010 and 1990, respectively. While emissions were at their highest level in the last decade, the rate of growth has slowed, from 2.1% between 2000 and 2010 to 1.3% between 2010 and 2019, as per estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future,” said Hoesung Lee, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a press release. “There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”

Mitigation and development

Climate and development can no longer be seen as separate issues, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which noted: “The development pathways taken by countries at all stages of economic development impact greenhouse gas emissions and hence shape mitigation challenges and opportunities.”

For instance, climate-related policies, such as energy efficiency, can be designed to achieve other sustainable development benefits, such as job creation and avoiding displacement of local populations. However, bringing climate and development together is challenging, and has potential consequences, such as in providing affordable energy, food and water to certain sections of society.

At the same time, this comes with new opportunities such as in sunrise sectors, such as hydrogen fuel production. Likewise, measures promoting walkable urban areas combined with electrification and renewable energy can also create health benefits from cleaner air and from enhanced mobility.

Developmental pathways, laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, that could help control emissions, include systemic changes such as teleworking, digitalisation of work or smart and shared mobility, which may reduce demand for passenger and freight services across land, air and sea. This could, in turn, reduce the demand for transport and energy services, which may decrease their greenhouse gas emissions.

Accelerate energy transition

While the rapid deployment and falling costs of renewable energy have massively outpaced and exceeded expectations, it is not enough, stated the International Energy Agency report released in May 2021.

Coal is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions. Photo credit: AFP

For instance, renewable energy has been one of the fastest-growing sectors in India in recent years, as successive governments have prioritised it. But at the same time, India’s budgeted expenditure on coal-based power has continually increased, as its energy requirements are growing, IndiaSpend reported in January.

Coal is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions and, therefore, of global warming. The Union government of India had, for long, allocated a budget several times higher to the coal ministry in comparison to key ministries addressing climate change, we have reported. However, the 2022 Union budget increased the budget of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy by 41% to Rs 28,570.99 crore, which is more than the budget allocated to the coal ministry (Rs 21,420 crore).

The report also emphasises rapid, deep emissions cuts to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is because most carbon removal technologies like bioenergy, carbon capture and storage risk severely compromising biodiversity, food security, human rights and ecosystems, unless done carefully at a limited scale.

However, forests can help this effort by segregating and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. But at least 1.6 billion hectares – an area five times the size of India, equivalent to all the land now farmed on the planet – would be required to reach net zero by 2050 through tree-planting alone, as per an August 2021 report by Oxfam.

At the 26th Conference of Parties on Climate Change held in Glasgow in November 2021, the European Union and 11 countries, including Canada, Belgium and Japan, committed $12 billion as part of the Global Forest Finance Pledge, over the next five years. Leaders of 137 countries, which collectively account for 90% of the world’s forests, signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use that seeks to halt deforestation. But India, which has 1.75% of the world’s forests, has not signed this pledge.

Role of cities

Cities are at much greater risk to extreme weather, like heat waves, that can aggravate air pollution and limit the functioning of critical infrastructures, such as transportation, water, sanitation and energy systems, we had reported on the findings of the second report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in February.

Cities and other urban areas offer significant opportunities for emissions reductions, as per the report. These can be achieved through lower energy consumption (such as by creating compact, walkable cities), electrification of transport in combination with low-emission energy sources, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature. There are options for established, rapidly growing, as well as for new cities.

Some of the strategies, as per the report, that can help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions include efficiently improving, repurposing or retrofitting existing buildings with clean energy, growing trees on empty parcels of land and supporting walking, bicycling and public transport, against motor vehicles.

Further, rapidly growing cities can avoid future emissions by co-locating jobs and housing, and by transitioning to low-emissions technologies such as renewable-based power and access to smart charging for electric vehicles. New and emerging cities will have significant infrastructure development needs to achieve a high quality of life, which can be met through energy-efficient infrastructures and services and people-centred urban design, as per the report.

Representational image. Photo credit: Jayanta Shaw/ Reuters

Climate finance

Meeting the ambitious target of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 is possible, but will require countries to step up, including in climate finance pledged by governments, the report states.

In 2009, developed countries had pledged to deliver to developing countries an annual climate fund of $100 billion by 2020. But the $100 billion target itself is now inadequate because developing countries are estimated to need $600 billion a year from 2020 to 2050 to decarbonise just their energy sectors, IndiaSpend reported in October 2021.

At the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, developed countries pledged to double finance towards climate adaptation by 2025 over what they had committed in 2019. Currently, less than a quarter of climate finance is spent on it, IndiaSpend reported in November 2021.

Further, private finance has outpaced public finance in the energy sector, and increasingly so in transport, reflecting a more mature renewable energy market and the fact that these projects are now perceived to be less risky.

Private sector organisations are expressing increasing concern over the risks of climate impacts, but climate-related financial risks remain underestimated by financial institutions and decision-makers. We need to boost funding to clean energy solutions, as many of the technologies, such as for manufacturing green hydrogen and for carbon capture and storage, are still in development, as per the International Energy Agency. For this, the International Energy Agency estimates that the annual investment into clean energy needs to triple to $4 trillion through 2030.

Equitable action

“Attention to equity and broad and meaningful participation of all relevant actors in decision-making at all scales can build social trust, and deepen and widen support for transformative changes,” as per the report.

“The report recognises that equity remains a central element in UN climate negotiations, despite shifts in understanding of differentiated responsibilities of countries over time and challenges in assessing what is a fair contribution of different countries,” Navroz Dubash, professor at the Centre for Policy Research, and a co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, said in a press release.

The common but differentiated responsibilities principle that was adopted at the climate summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, recognises the historical responsibility of developed countries, such as the United States, by ensuring that they bear the economic cost of responding to climate change. For instance, India accounted for 2.6% of the world’s cumulative carbon emissions between 1850 and 2010 whereas the US accounted for 28% over the same period, according to the World Resources Institute. But developed nations have deferred this responsibility by providing inadequate climate finance.

At least 18 countries, including countries from the European Union, the United States and developing countries like Cuba, have sustained greenhouse gas emission reductions for longer than 10 years by reducing energy demand and decarbonising energy supply, an outcome of both policies and changes in economic structure, the report stated.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.