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5 April 2022

IPCC report: We have the tools to secure a liveable future

Dr Laura Zamboni

By Dr Laura Zamboni

IPCC report: We have the tools to secure a liveable future

Today, not tomorrow. This year, not next. If we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must act now. That is the resounding message from the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which spotlights the continuing inadequacy of climate action.

However, the report's warnings - which were based on more than 18,000 scientific papers - were balanced by an empowering note of optimism: we have the tools to reduce emissions in line with our most ambitious global warming targets. The challenge ahead of us is to scale and implement them quickly, equitably, and inclusively. We must address the impacts of climate change we are experiencing here and now, and compensate for the mounting risks climate change poses across the coming decades.

We are still not doing enough to tackle climate change

Mitigation of Climate Change, the most recent analysis from Working Group III, finds that we are not doing nearly enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C, a level that would mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Reaching this goal would require us to slash net global emissions from 2019 levels by 43% by 2030 and 84% by 2050, with emissions peaking before 2025. 

While climate action has slowed the rate at which net emission production is increasing, human activity created more greenhouse gasses over the last ten years than in any previous decade. If we stay on our current trajectory and fail to strengthen our mitigation efforts, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase 14% this decade, putting us on course for a median warming of 3.2°C by the end of the century. This would have disastrous consequences for communities, nature, and businesses, including widespread food and water insecurity, increased damage and disruption from extreme weather events, and the extinction of more than one million species of plants and animals.

We have the tools we need to reach 1.5°C

Mitigation of Climate Change offered a ray of hope by stating that we now have the financial, technological, and social tools required to reduce emissions in line with warming of 1.5°C in a way that is equitable and inclusive. This is a watershed conclusion. For many years, academics and policymakers have operated under the assumption that achieving 1.5°C would require the ground-up invention of entirely new technologies. The fact we have already developed these technologies puts us much closer to where we need to be. 

The report prescribed several evidence-based transformations all areas of society must embrace to reduce their contribution to global warming. These steps include a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, transitioning to electrified transport, and co-locating housing and jobs. 

Working Group III’s analysis also highlights key issues in sectors and regions where decarbonization is more difficult to address. While some sectors and regions are easier to decarbonize than others, it’s essential for climate resilience that we enable everyone as much as possible to reach Net Zero. This includes the industrial sector, where reaching Net Zero is “challenging but possible”. Climate financing and regulation will play a critical role in ensuring no one is left behind, especially in developing countries where limited liquidity is a huge barrier to decarbonization.

Benefits beyond decarbonization

The IPCC’s analysis explores the connection between climate mitigation strategies, adaptation, and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), describing a number of potential synergies and trade-offs. 

Climate action creates a range of positive by-products beyond emissions reduction that support the SDGs. Shifting to balanced, sustainable diets has a range of health benefits. Switching to low-carbon energy and transportation can improve energy security and deliver equity. Conservations of natural ecosystems and soil carbon management would enhance agricultural productivity.

The report highlights negative trade-offs between climate action and SDGs depending on their “development context”, the cooperation between countries and regions. Minimizing trade-offs will be particularly challenging for developing countries, vulnerable populations, and Indigenous Peoples. Limiting trade-offs between these important goals can be achieved by emphasizing constructive measures like capacity building, finance, and technology transfer, as well as involving Indigenous Peoples and vulnerable populations in the decision-making process.

Combining climate resilience and adaptation

The report is clear that to reduce the impact of climate change on our communities and businesses, we must combine mitigation and adaptation - tailoring assets, infrastructure, and supply chains to withstand increasing climate hazards. Thanks to more than a century of historic emissions, extreme weather events like storms and floods are projected to become both more frequent and more intense in the years ahead. 

Climate-related hazards can damage Nature-based solutions, increasing the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. For example, if planted without accounting for exposure to current and emerging climate hazards, a forest created to offset emissions may suffer a wildfire, releasing carbon instead of capturing it. This situation is called maladaptation, where efforts to moderate climate risks and achieve climate mitigation backfire, contributing to global warming rather than reducing it. 

Effective mitigation requires Climate Intelligence

Effectively adapting mitigation strategies to compensate for climate change is only possible if governments and organizations understand climate-related risks at the level of individual assets. Without this insight, decision-makers cannot determine which countermeasures - building sea walls, using more durable building materials, employing reflective pigments - will effectively de-risk their projects. 

Understanding climate-related risks at the asset level has been historically impossible due to the complexity of climate data. However, advances in earth science and machine learning have made discovering and analyzing climate-related risks to individual assets possible, through a cutting-edge capability called Climate Intelligence (CI).

Climate intelligence, which global analyst firm IDC called CI “a strategic priority for organizations worldwide”, is asset-level intelligence for decision-making. By leveraging CI through products like EarthScan™, companies can access a clear, science-backed, and shared view of climate risk, and for decades to come, safeguarding their mitigation efforts and contributing more effectively to the widespread emissions reduction we need. 

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