With the release this morning in Copenhagen, Denmark, of the final world Synthesis Report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel, it has become evident that all peoples of Earth need to take action (Sunday, November 2, 2014).
Why is this important to Americans? IPCC interfaces on a global scale between science and policymaking. World governments rely on it for worldwide action analysis and planning to adapt to impacts of climate change and prevent catastrophe.
It’s a small world, and we all have to live in it.
Says Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for this 40th session:
“We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2ºC of warming closes. To keep a good chance of staying below 2ºC, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100. We have that opportunity, and the choice is in our hands.”
The panel adopted a Summary for Policymakers and completed work on its agenda at 4:40 pm Saturday.
Yesterday’s summary, which Alister Doyle of Reuters calls a “handbook,” is currently the world’s most comprehensive assessment of scientific knowledge on climate change. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (who is also President of the incoming COP 20 in Lima) joined Pachauri in Copenhagen, along with the World Meteorological Organization’s Michel Jarraud, IPCC Secretary Renate Christ, and some of the contributors to the report.
Preparation for yesterday’s report
The IPCC has been meeting there over the past week to hammer out the final Synthesis Report. The new document summarizes three massive climate investigations (Fifth Assessment Report, or AR5) begun by IPCC’s 195 member governments in October 2009. The world’s finest scientists and climate policy advisors completed them during the past year and two months:
Physical science of climate change (September 2013): The Physical Science working group found that climate change has primarily been caused by humans since 1951; that many indicators of change (ice sheet melt, glacial melt, and sea level rise) have all accelerated faster than predicted; and that climate change is impacting meteorological conditions by increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather.
Impacts, adaptations, and vulnerability (March 2014): The Impacts and Vulnerabilities working group found that people everywhere are vulnerable to such extreme events and have done little to prepare for or adapt to them; that climate change is already harming agricultural yields and affecting food availability and prices; and that further delay will cause temperature targets to be exceeded. Temperature targets such as the 2ºC of warming agreed upon by world leaders will soon be out of reach if no further action is taken.
Mitigation measures (April 2014): The Mitigation of Climate Change working group concluded that the energy sector must pitch in for us to transition to a low-carbon economy, tripling or quadrupling use of renewables by 2050 to meet temperature targets; that restricting warming to 2ºC is still practical and affordable, with renewable costs falling and deforestation largely slowed or reversed and investments in climate mitigation having only a near-negligible impact on global economic growth; and that continuing to invest in long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure could lock us into a harmful emissions pathway.
Major findings confirmed
As we reported on the August draft, the final report states that the scientific case is irrefutable and action is needed immediately. Agreement becomes more important every day in the face of conflicting national priorities and escalating climate changes.
Every government in the world has had an opportunity to review and comment on the IPCC’s draft. To complete the climate synthesis, governments and report authors went line-by-line through the draft and section by section through the complete report. Leading scientists attempted to reflect the balance of the evidence succinctly in the report:
- Emissions of greenhouse gases and other drivers caused by man account for most observed global warming since the mid-20th century.
- On all continents and across the oceans, the world has already experienced the impacts of climate change.
- The more our human activity disrupts the climate, the greater are the risks. In other words, continuing to allow greenhouse gases to accumulate will alter all components of the climate system and presage widespread and profound impacts that will affect the natural world and all levels of human society.
Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (Mitigation), finds it technically feasible to transition to a low-carbon economy. However, he notes, “what is lacking are appropriate policies and institutions. The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.”
Substantial reductions in emissions require large changes in investment patterns. For mitigation scenarios that stabilize CO2-equivalent concentrations in the range of 430-530 ppm by 2100, annual investments in low-carbon electricity supply and energy efficiency in key sectors (transport, industry and buildings) are projected to rise by several hundred billion dollars per year before 2030. If enabled, the private sector can join government in financing mitigation and adaptation. However, financing currently lags behind desired goals. Target economic scenarios shown in the draft amounted to the following:
- $30 billion/year decline in fossil fuel investment,
- $147 billion/year increase in low-carbon energy investment, and
- $100 billion/year increase in energy efficiency investments.
Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
According to IPCC’s official news release, “the Synthesis Report finds that mitigation cost estimates vary, but that global economic growth would not be strongly affected. In business-as-usual scenarios, consumption—a proxy for economic growth—grows by 1.6% to 3% per year over the 21st century. Ambitious mitigation would reduce this by about 0.06 percentage points…. These economic estimates of mitigation costs do not account for the benefits of reduced climate change, nor do they account for the numerous co-benefits associated with human health, livelihoods, and development.”
For a more targeted, non-IPCC reading of the numbers, the ClimateNexus strategic communications group recommends the recently released New Climate Economy Report. This analysis by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate found a global need for $90 trillion of infrastructure investment over the next 15 years. It also figured that directing this capital toward low-carbon investments would cost only about 5% more initially and also deliver many substantial benefits to health and welfare.
Adaptation will play a key role in decreasing the risks, says Vicente Barros, co-chair of Working Group II (Impacts, adaptations, and vulnerability). It is vital that adaptation be integrated with development in order to make up for situations our past emissions and existing infrastructure have already caused.
Adaptation alone cannot help us withstand negative impacts, the report says. Substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are at the core of limiting the risks of climate change. We need mitigation to slow the rate and scope of warming. It will increase the time we have to adapt, potentially by several decades.
Different mitigation routes and combinations can reduce emissions over the next few decades enough to give us a two-in-three chance to limit warming to 2ºC relative to pre-industrial levels, which is the goal set by governments. Other considerations include tipping points—dangerous negative uncertainties—in climate projections and the need for decisionmakers to consider catastrophic outcomes.
As Planetsave noted several months ago, the synthesis presents some clear warnings. It lays down two paths that depend on energy choices we make today: continuing to use fossil fuels and reaching a 4ºC warmer future by 2100, with severe, possibly irreversible climate impacts; or achieving a minimally affected future by that time using clean energy, mitigation practices, and intelligent adaptations to continue economic growth and sustainable development.
Continued burning of fossil fuels could increase temperatures between 3.7ºC and 4.8ºC by the end of the century. Warming beyond 4ºC would likely result in many extinctions, increased water scarcity, large global and regional food insufficiency, irreversible impacts on presently normal human activities, and persistence and/or expansion of conflict and wars. Recent research from the World Bank, this year’s US assessment, and Carbon Tracker generally concurs.
The IPCC Synthesis Report clearly states that many risks of climate change challenge least developed countries and vulnerable communities like island states the most. Also, people who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change. Says Pachauri:
“Many of those most vulnerable to climate change have contributed and contribute little to greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing climate change will not be possible if individual agents advance their own interests independently. It can only be achieved through cooperative responses, including international cooperation.”
Pachauri also gives us the bottom line, saying that climate change is everyone’s problem and that we have the means to limit it. We can implement many solutions that allow for continued economic and human development. “All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science.”
Stay tuned to CleanTechnica for more on international reaction, the IPCC process, live reports from December’s IPCC COP20/CMP10 conference in Lima, Peru, and other climate news as it unfolds. IPCC-41 will meet from 24-27 February 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya.