IPCC Urges Rapid Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cuts

A look at the IPCC's Working Group III report on mitigation

Global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) must peak by 2025 and fall 43% by 2030 under globally modeled pathways that limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group III report, released on Monday, said. 

The world’s current emissions trajectory would result in a 3.2⁰C temperature increase by the end of the century, it added. 

Crossing the 1.5⁰C threshold, set in the Paris Agreement, is expected to unleash unprecedented heatwaves, widespread water shortages, more extreme storms, and other severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. To keep the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5⁰C alive, we must triple the speed of the shift to renewable energy and move subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables now, the IPCC said. 

In modeled pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C, getting to net zero by 2050 would require using about 95% less coal, 60% less oil, and 45% less natural gas compared to 2019, Monday’s IPCC report noted. 

Currently, the GHG emissions that are causing global warming are at their highest levels in human history. Emissions in 2019 were about 12% higher than they were in 2010 and 54% higher than they were in 1990. 

But increased evidence of climate action is emerging. The average annual rate of growth in global emissions slowed from 2.1% per year between 2000-2009 to 1.3% per year by 2010-2019, the IPCC said. This decline in growth was particularly noticeable in the energy and industrial sectors, where policies and laws have helped enhance energy efficiency and accelerate the deployment of renewable energy. 

It’s Now or Never 

At the sector-level, viable, financially-sound options for keeping the possibility of 1.5 ⁰C alive exist, but current national climate pledges are woefully inadequate. Today, current pledges would require an abrupt acceleration of mitigation efforts after 2030 to likely limit warming to 2°C, the IPCC said. And if countries do not commit to more ambitious pledges before COP27 in Egypt later this year, the likelihood that the 1.5⁰C target slips beyond reach will increase. 

If limiting warming to 1.5⁰C is the goal, the next few years are critical, and Working Group III’s assessment shows that finance can improve our chances of success, the IPCC said. 

Financial flows are a factor of three-to-six times lower than the levels needed by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5⁰C or 2⁰C, yet there is significant global capital and liquidity to close investment gaps, it added. 

Additionally, the IPCC’s latest report shows that building more fossil fuel-based infrastructure puts both climate goals and investor capital at risk. In its report, the IPCC estimated that the combined global discounted value of the unburned fossil fuels and stranded fossil fuel infrastructure has been projected to be around $1–4 trillion dollars from 2015 to 2050 based on a target of 2⁰C, and it will be higher if global warming is limited to approximately 1.5⁰C. In this context, coal assets are projected to be at risk of being stranded before 2030, while oil and gas assets are projected to be more at risk of being stranded toward mid-century, it added. 

Even before taking into account the economic benefits of reduced adaptation costs or avoided climate impacts, global gross domestic product could be a few percentage points lower in 2050, if we do not change our current policy course and take actions to limit warming to 2⁰C or below, the IPCC said. On this point, strong alignment of public sector finance and policies is critically important, and the challenge for closing the gap is widest for developing countries, it noted. 

According to the Working Group III report, regulatory and economic instruments can play an important role in strengthening the response to climate change. Regulatory and economic instruments - ranging from standards for vehicle efficiency to building codes, to policies for industrial decarbonization, to broad-based carbon taxes and emissions trading systems - have already proven effective at reducing emissions, and these measures can be expanded and strengthened, the IPCC said. 

Mitigation Options at the Sector Level   

Beyond energy, Working Group III’s report shows how the building, transport, cities, and agriculture industries can be part of the solution to lowering emissions. While banks and asset managers can use the report to see where companies in these sectors need to invest, policymakers can use it to inform mitigation plans and regulatory efforts. 

What’s possible at the sector level: 

  • In the building sector, the IPCC said that it is possible to meet net-zero emissions by 2050, and action in this decade is essential. This would involve retrofitting existing buildings, using effective mitigation techniques in new buildings, and incorporating efficient design and use of space, energy, materials, and appliances, it explained. 
    • Reducing emissions in the building industry will also involve using materials and energy more efficiently, reusing and recycling products, and minimizing waste. For basic materials, including steel, building materials, and chemicals, low to zero GHG production processes are either at pilot or near commercial stage in some cases, the IPCC noted.
  • In the transport sector, reducing demand could play an important part in reducing global GHG emissions, and low carbon technologies are key. Electric vehicles, in particular, offer great potential, if they are combined with low or zero-carbon electricity sources, the IPCC said. 
    • While advances in battery technology can assist the electrification of trucks, in harder to decarbonize transport industries, including aviation and shipping, alternative fuels like low-emissions hydrogen and biofuels would be needed, it added.  
  • In cities and other urban areas, the IPCC said that there is significant potential for emissions reductions through better urban planning. Other broad-based strategies that the IPCC says have been proven to be effective include sustainable consumption and production of goods, electrification, and improving carbon uptake and storage using trees, lakes, green roofs, and permeable surfaces. 
  • On the land use side, biological methods for storing carbon, such as reforestation and soil carbon management, are already practiced in many places. Although agriculture, forestry, and other land use can provide large scale emissions reductions and remove and store carbon dioxide, land use cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors, the IPCC said. 
    • New technologies, like carbon capture and storage, will be needed to achieve net zero, but these technologies still require more research, upfront investment, and proof of concept at scale, it added. Also, for these technologies to work effectively, methods for meaningful reporting and verification are required. 

Lifestyle and behavioral changes can also reduce the global carbon footprint, as well as improve health and wellbeing, the IPCC noted. Accelerated and equitable climate actions in mitigating climate change and adapting to climate impacts is critical to sustainable development, and it aligns with achieving many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, it added. 

However, to be effective, lifestyle changes will need to be supported by systemic changes, and wealthier individuals have the highest potential for reductions as investors, consumers, and role models, the IPCC said. When it comes to lifestyle and behavioral changes, there is untapped potential to bring down global emissions by between 40-70% by 2050, but only if the necessary policies, infrastructure, and technologies are in place, it added.