On 4 April 2022, Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Mitigation of Climate Change Report (report). The report is the third major installment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report and is intended to sit alongside earlier sections covering the physical science basis, published in August 2021, and impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, published in February 2022.
The report provides an updated global assessment of the progress made on climate change mitigation by summarising the latest science on the sources of global emissions, emission reduction efforts and the impact of national climate pledges in relation to long term goals. The headline conclusion of the report is that average annual emissions in the last ten years were higher than in any previous decade and that, in order to limit future warming to 1.5°C, immediate and deep emissions cuts are required. Commenting on these findings, the co-chair of the report, Jim Skea, said that ‘it’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C.’
The report assesses the emissions reduction progress made in several sectors and identifies opportunities for further mitigation steps in each, including:
- Energy. Reducing emissions from the energy sector will, according to the report, require a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, the deployment of low emission energy sources, a switch to alternative forms of energy and enhanced energy efficiency and conservation. Progress in renewable energy has been substantial, with the report finding that, in the period 2010-2019, the unit cost of solar energy and wind energy decreased by 85 per cent and 55 per cent respectively, and there were large increases in their deployment (e.g. a more than tenfold increase for solar power). Similarly, the report found that digital technologies, including sensors, the Internet of Things, robotics and artificial intelligence, can improve energy efficiency for all sectors.
- Industry. It will take longer for industrial practices to reach net zero than many other sectors. Nevertheless, the report concludes it is achievable provided there is engagement across the value chain. The report notes that many companies in the primary and basic materials industries, especially for highly traded basic materials, are vulnerable to competition, and international support and cooperation will be needed to sustain decarbonisation. Changes towards longer product life cycles, switching fuel and feedstock, materials efficiency, demand management and the potential role of carbon capture, utilisation and storage are highlighted as priorities for mitigating industrial sectors in all countries.
- Transport. Programmes to change consumer behaviour (eg transport pricing) and the increased use of low emission technology are identified as important mitigation options for the transport sector. Electric vehicles were found to offer the largest emissions reduction potential for land-based transport and, encouragingly, in the period 2010-2019, the use of electric vehicles had increased a hundredfold. For aviation and shipping, however, the report found that electrification is suitable only for short trips, and hence other mitigation options are required such as the use of sustainable biofuels, low emission hydrogen and synthetic fuels.
- Agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU). The potential for social conflicts in the AFOLU sector is recognised in the report, as is the fact that challenges in this sector are likely to be very country-specific and politically more sensitive. However, the report notes the success of a diverse range of regulatory initiatives and incentive schemes in this sector. Forest protection and restoration is identified as the priority for cost efficiency, and sustainable intensification of agriculture has the potential to reduce the pressures on land conversion, as well as freeing land for reforestation. The development of monitoring and verification practices and strengthening of the rule of law in developing countries, are identified as crucial for land-based mitigation.
- Finance and investment. There is a need for clear policy signals from governments to drive investors towards aligning portfolios with climate goals. While potential capital availability for climate mitigation is substantial, the report finds that funding is held back by an underestimation of climate related-risks and unattractive risk-return profiles for many measures, which is partly driven by weak regulatory environments and insufficient public sector leadership. It recommends developed nations increase the use of support mechanisms, such as public guarantees and grants, to lead private investment towards developing nations, as well as increasing the use of mandatory reporting frameworks for climate related risks. Transparency and consistency are key, as the report concludes that existing ESG-focused investing is unlikely to yield substantial outcomes, and services related to ESG diligence and verification are opaque. For developing nations, strengthening or introducing regulatory regimes to aid investment, and direct investment in low carbon infrastructure and energy sources alongside foreign capital, will be key. The report suggests that the political cost of carbon taxes may make it unfeasible for developing nations, and any carbon taxes levied in developed nations should involve distributing income to adversely affected groups.
- Cities. In emerging cities, effective planning to reduce resource demands and the use of building materials to increase carbon update and capture will be important, whereas in established cities, retrofitting and infilling are key. All cities have opportunities to mitigate through electrification, and changes towards more sustainable material and energy use. The report also emphasises that cities can have a disproportionate impact on changes in supply chains through setting market norms (including through building codes and materials requirements).
The report also notes the importance of accelerating climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report recognises that there will be both synergies and trade-offs between climate action and other efforts under the SDGs, and that mitigation actions will need to be managed with regard to a range of factors, including consideration of equity within and between nations.
The report concludes with commentary on how the mitigation opportunities identified can be deployed and their feasibility supported. It emphasises the importance of policy and regulatory changes to shift development pathways, induce lifestyle or behaviour changes, and facilitate investment to make mitigation efforts feasible to deploy at pace and at scale.
‘It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C.’