It won’t cost the earth to fight climate change, says IPCC

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions to minimal levels will lead to 0.06% reduction in annual consumption growth, says global panel

Moving to a low carbon or zero carbon economy now to combat climate change will cost the world a 0.06% reduction in annual consumption growth, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said in its latest report.

Releasing the report of IPCC’s Working Group III in Berlin on Sunday, the panel’s chairman Rajendra Pachauri said, “Effective mitigation won’t be achieved if individual agents advance their own agenda independently. This report brings out the need for international cooperation.” This working group deals with mitigation of climate change by controlling emissions of carbon to the atmosphere. The IPCC will bring out a synthesis of its three working group reports later this year.

The overwhelming majority of scientists now agree that climate change is occurring, and it is due to carbon emissions by human activities. It is also known that climate change is already reducing farm output worldwide, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe, raising the sea level and turning sea water more acidic. Despite this knowledge, “From 1970 to 2010, total anthropogenic emissions have continued to increase,” Pachauri pointed out, and the sharpest increase has been from 2000 to 2010.

Almost half (47%) of the greenhouses gases spewed into the atmosphere in this process come from energy generation, 30% from industrial activities and 11% from transport, the IPCC calculates in this report. Pachauri said global low carbon energy supply needed to increase by three to four times, and that delay will make this process more difficult and more costly. “The high speed mitigation train would need to leave the station very soon and all of global society would have to get on board.”

Summary for policymakers diluted

The actual report of this working group is far stronger than the summary for policymakers, which was diluted significantly by bureaucrats from around the world, who met in Berlin over the last week to discuss the summary.

Still, some of the major points were clear. Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the working group, said, “Economic growth has outpaced emissions reductions.” Without more mitigation, the global average temperature will rise between 3.7 and 4.8 degrees Celsius by 2100, says the report.

Such mitigation “needs major technological and institutional changes including upscaling of low and zero carbon energy” sources, Edenhofer pointed out. For the best case scenario, renewable energy would need a 310% jump. It would also need international action and a relatively high price on carbon emissions.

Unlike the last report of this working group (published in 2007), this report’s summary for policymakers does not specify the extent to which each country – or group of countries – needs to reduce its carbon emissions. Asked about this, Edenhofer admitted, “Allocation of specific targets cause a lot of friction – governments felt it would be inappropriate for the summary. But Chapter 6 has some burden sharing schemes.”

Business-as-usual development is not an option

Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environment Institute – and a lead author of the report’s chapter on sustainable development and equity – said the IPCC had now “presented climate as part of the overarching development challenge, which is still really the priority for many developing countries. The IPCC has taken this approach because, if the climate problem is to be solved, then it has to involve developing countries, which are now the source of the majority of emissions. But those countries are also home to the overwhelming majority of the world’s poor. So if they are to be involved, it has to be in a way that still lets them – even helps them – to meet their development needs. One of the major things the IPCC makes absolutely clear, however, is that business-as-usual development is not an option.”

Chaitanya Kumar, South Asia Coordinator of the international climate campaign, said, “We know that 80% of fossil fuels need to stay underground in order to avoid a climate catastrophe. However, the government and the fossil fuel industry in India for instance are spending billions every year to dig new reserves or import more and corrupt political progress. We have the solutions to make the shift from fossil fuels to renewables… We need to invest in decentralised clean energy solutions now.”

Li Shuo, Climate and Energy Policy Officer, Greenpeace China, said, “Climate action is no burden, it’s an opportunity. As renewable energies are growing bigger, better and cheaper every day, the age of dangerous and polluting coal, oil and gas is over. The only rational response to this report is to start the phase out of fossil fuels immediately. It’s simple: the more we wait, the more climate change costs us. The sooner we act, the cheaper the transition to a renewables future for all will be.”

Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), pointed out, “To have a likely chance of limiting the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius means lowering global greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70% compared to 2010 by mid-century, and to near-zero by the end of this century.”

Samantha Smith, leader, Global Climate and Energy Initiative of WWF International, said, “The IPCC is clear that acting on climate change is possible, beneficial and affordable. If we act now, costs will be only a very small fraction of global economies. Those who say it’s too hard and too expensive are wrong. But it is very urgent – without immediate action, costs will rise and impacts will too. The first, critical step is changing investment flows. Any investor who looks at this report will have to reach an obvious conclusion: It’s time to pull your money out of dirty fossil fuels and put it into renewable energy and energy efficiency.