The new IPCC report - two key takeaways

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Did you miss the new IPCC report launched earlier this week? No wonder in case you did. With everything going on in the world right now, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change got pretty much buried in the news. The silence of world leaders has also been staggering. The report is nevertheless one of the most crucial scientific climate reports of our time. It is the third part of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and focuses on how to mitigate the climate crisis. Part one provided the physical scientific basis for climate change, the second part highlighted the impacts of climate change. The third part describes what needs to be done to avert catastrophe. For people closely following climate issues, the key messages of the report are nothing new. The report reminds us that we need “rapid and deep” emissions reductions in “all sectors” of the global economy. This is a message we have heard from climate science countless times before. But there are a few interesting new things that the latest IPCC report highlights, perhaps more than ever before. Let’s have a look at a couple of these issues.

Carbon dioxide removal will be unavoidable to reach net-zero

One of the key messages of the report is that not even radical emissions reductions are enough anymore. Methods for removing CO2 from the atmosphere are “unavoidable” if the world is to reach net-zero – both globally and nationally. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is a process in which carbon dioxide gas is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered for long periods of time. CDR can be done with nature-based methods where carbon is sequestered and stored into biomass like trees, seagrasses, or soil. There are also engineered methods to remove carbon such as direct air capture and storage. Currently, tree-planting and ecosystem restoration are the only “widely deployed” forms of CO2 removal, according to the report. But it also emphasized the need to scale up engineered solutions. The voluntary carbon market, where businesses and other organizations voluntarily purchase carbon credits will have to play a huge role in scaling up CO2 removal solutions. Currently, removal projects only make up 5% of the market. Corporate net zero targets that require removal credits to neutralize residual emissions are already increasing the demand for removal projects. It's clear that in light of the IPCC’s message, we need to pick up the pace now. In the longer term, upscaled CDR will also be needed to provide net-negative CO2 emissions at the global level and get CO2 levels in the atmosphere back to safer levels, allowing an eventual cooling down of the climate.

We need demand-side solutions and fundamental changes to consumption

For the first time ever an IPCC report devotes a chapter to the “demand-side”, including diets and consumption patterns. The chapter explores the social science literature to assess how people’s behavior, and the choices they are offered, can cut emissions. According to the IPCC, early action and demand-side solutions can minimize the need for CDR and give more time to bring CO2 emissions to net zero. Changes in how people consume goods and services could cut end-use emissions by 40-70% by 2050, while at the same time improving the well-being of people. Seems like a no-brainer right? What needs to change then? The greatest potential comes from changes in food demand. This basically means shifting to more plant-based diets. Changes in transport provide the second-biggest opportunity for emissions savings, where emissions could be avoided by not using a car, cutting back on flights, and using public transport. Overall, the report notes that choosing low-carbon options could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to 9tCO2. Crucially, the report emphasizes that these demand-side measures are consistent with improving basic wellbeing for all.

Who needs to act now?

The IPCC highlights the huge inequality issue that underlies the climate crisis. Current, as well as historic emissions, are not at all evenly distributed. Consumers emit fossil carbon dioxide per capita in most of Europe by more than 9 times and in North America by as much as 20 times as much as in Africa. The lowest-emission half is responsible for just over a tenth of emissions. The world's highest emitting tenth accounts for about a third of all household emissions. Change needs to happen the fastest in this group, to which I imagine that most readers of this blog belong. We need to stop thinking that it's always “someone else” who needs to solve the problem. Taking responsibility needs to happen on all levels. A good start can be sharing the key messages of the latest IPCC report.

Text: Niklas Kaskeala, Chief Impact Officer at Compensate

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