Lifestyles and behavior changes enabled by having the right infrastructure, policies and technology could lead to a sizable reduction of GHG emissions by 2050
What is the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report about?
The AR6 Working Group III report offers an updated global evaluation of the climate change mitigation progress and pledges while analyzing the sources of global emissions.
The AR6 Working Group III comprises 278 authors from sixty-five countries, including thirty-six coordinating lead authors, 163 lead authors, and thirty-eight review editors, plus 354 contributing authors.
With over 18,000 cited references, this report by the IPCC, the UN body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change, delineates the developments in emission reduction and mitigation efforts.
How significant will the climate action taken in the next few years be to limit global warming to one-point-five degrees Celsius?
Between 2010 and 2019, the average annual global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) were at their highest levels, though their growth rate has slowed.
All global modeled pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C involve rapid and profound GHG emission reductions in all sectors.
In mitigation pathways limiting warming to one-point-five degrees Celsius, with no or limited overshoot, CO2 reductions reach fifty percent in the 2030s, relative to 2019. This reduction, followed by a further decrease in emissions, reaches net-zero CO2 emissions in the 2050s. Achieving and maintaining global net-zero GHG emissions results in a gradual decline in warming.
According to the report, limiting global warming to one-point-five degrees Celsius is beyond reach without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors. In fact, mitigation after 2030 can no longer establish a pathway with a probability lower than sixty-seven to exceed one-point-five degrees Celsius of warming during the current century.
«This assessment has a very clear message: the time for action is now.. We are already much behind with the goals we targeted. If we want to reach 1.5 °C, we do need immediate and deep emissions reduction across all sectors (e.g. transport, buildings, urban, industry, land use, and energy). IPCC scenarios show limiting warming to 1.5 °C requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025, at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030. But the question is, “How?”. This IPCC assessment on mitigating climate change shows that in every sector, options are available now that can at least halve emissions by 2030 and keep the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5 °C. In addition, for the first time in IPCC history, in this assessment, there is a dedicated chapter on demand-side climate solutions (chapter 5), focusing on demand, services and social aspects of mitigation. As the youngest woman scientist in this report, it has been my greatest pleasure to be involved in shaping this chapter». Explained Leila Niamir PhD, research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).
What actions need to be taken to limit the warming to below one-point-five degrees?
The mitigation strategies implemented to achieve these reductions include transitioning from fossil fuels to very low- or zero-carbon energy sources, such as renewables, demand-side measures, improving efficiency, and reducing non-CO2 emissions.
The emissions reductions required for a two degrees Celsius or one-point-five degrees Celsius global warming are achieved through the increased electrification of buildings, industry, and transport. At the same time, all pathways include increased electricity generation. Global low-carbon electricity generation will have to reach 100 percent by 2050.
«One of the main messages of chapter 5 in this assessment is that demand-side measures and new ways of end-use service provision can reduce global GHG emissions by 40–70% by 2050. Demand-side measures include switching to walking and cycling and electrified (shared) transport, shifting to sustainable healthy diets, reusing and recycling materials, and so on. Of course, with policy support, behaviour and lifestyle changes (mostly by individuals with high socioeconomic status) can rapidly reduce GHG emissions, and more reduction is possible with improved infrastructure design and access». Says Dr. Niamir
How has the progress on the alignment of financial flows towards the goals of the Paris Agreement been proceeding?
Finance to reduce net GHG emissions and enhance climate resilience is crucial in enabling the low carbon transition. The decarbonization of the economy requires global action to address fundamental economic inequities.
According to the report, progress on the alignment of financial flows towards the goals of the Paris Agreement remains slow, with tracked climate finance flowing in an uneven manner across regions and sectors.
The progress on the alignment of financial flows with low GHG emissions pathways is slow, with a climate financing gap reflecting the misallocation of global capital. Despite recent commitments, the high levels of public and private fossil-fuel-related financing continue to be concerning.
What’s the link between sustainable development, vulnerability, and climate risks?
High vulnerability to climate change and low adaptive capacity, which is the ability of a system to morph and adjust to climate changes, can result from limited economic, social, and institutional resources.
There are differences among countries and regions regarding GHG emissions contributions, degree of vulnerability to climate change-related impacts, and economic capacities.
According to the 2022 World Inequality Report by the Paris-based research laboratory World Inequality Lab, in North America, per capita emissions amount to twenty-one tonnes. This is equivalent to three times the world average of six-point-six tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) and six times higher than the sustainable per capita budget of three-point-four tonnes per person per annum for a plus two degrees Celsius global warming level.
Inequalities in the distribution of emissions within countries are significant. As explained in the 2022 World Inequality report, in 2019, sixty-three percent of the global carbon inequality is due to within-country inequality. Inequality in carbon emissions among countries and individuals within nations are both present.
Given these gaps between and within regions and nations, focusing on equity and justice is crucial for just and effective climate policy.
«Studies show wealthier individuals have the highest potential for reductions as investors, consumers, role models or professionals. The important point here is while there is mitigation potential in many regions of the world, in some places, people require additional housing, energy and resources for human well-being». Adds Dr. Niamir
What are the benefits of attention to equity and broad and meaningful participation of all relevant actors in mitigation?
Social trust and support for transformative changes can be built through participatory and collective decision-making in mitigation. By focusing on finance, governance, technology transfer, investments, capacity building, and social equity with meaningful participation of Indigenous Peoples and vulnerable populations, trade-offs can be evaluated and minimized.
According to the AR6 Working Group III report, pathways based on a comprehensive portfolio of mitigation strategies are more solid and more resilient.
The report assesses the interaction between sociocultural factors, individual choices, infrastructure, and other structural changes. Rapid and sizable changes in the demand side facilitate GHG emissions reductions in every sector in the short and medium-term. In addition, the indicative potential of demand-side strategies across all sectors to reduce emissions by 2050 is between forty and seventy percent.
Demand-side mitigation strategies that focus on reducing emissions by increasing efficiency and changing behavior can be classified as Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) options. These include reducing long-haul aviation, offering short-distance low-carbon urban infrastructures, and increasing the use of energy-efficient end-use technologies, and passive housing. These are houses built following high energy efficiency standards that allow for thermal comfort with minimal use of heating.
A 2021 study published on Nature has analyzed the societal implications of demand-side mitigation options. Its results have shown that the demand-side reduction strategies needed for meeting climate targets in the short and medium term are consistent with improved well-being. (Creutzig, F., Niamir, L., Bai, X. et al. 2022)
«As individuals we can do a lot; for example, as citizens, with enough knowledge, we can act as role models and set examples for others. Professionals (engineers, urban planners, teachers, researchers) can make a difference – e.g. urban planners can design cities to avoid urban sprawl and allow safe walking and cycling. Investors can make strategic plans to divest from fossil fuels. As consumers, we can explore a good life consistent with sustainable consumption. Our assessment shows that, with policy support, socio-cultural options, particularly individual behavioural change, can rapidly reduce GHG emissions by at least 5% and more until 2050 if combined with improved infrastructure design and access. For example, it is possible to reduce our carbon footprint if comfortable public transport is available, accessible, and affordable, or if cycleways make it easy for us to cycle to work rather than drive. Another example would be if our houses and workplaces correspond to our needs (large houses for big families and smaller ones for singles or couples) and are energy-efficient and powered using renewable energy. In that case, it makes it easier for us to live a low-carbon lifestyle. So we need investment in infrastructure and transformation across, every sector along with policies and incentives that encourage people to make low-carbon choices in all aspects of their lives». Says Dr. Niamir.
What determines the feasibility of a mitigation option? A just and equitable transitions at local, national and global level.
Geophysical, economic, environmental-ecological, technological, sociocultural, and institutional barriers and enabling conditions can influence the feasibility of deploying response options.
Rather than geophysical and technological, the feasibility challenges associated with mitigation pathways tend to be institutional and economical, with institutional capacity acting as a central limiting factor to successful ecological transition.
«The studies in the IPCC report show that the feasibility of mitigation options varies according to context and time and depends on the scale and speed of implementation.».
What does a just and equitable transitions at local, national and global level look like? Are mitigation and human well-being compatible?
According to the report, focusing on the principles of justice, equality and fairness can enable an acceleration in the transition to sustainability.
« Just Transition is the notion of well-being, equity and justice. It requires targeted and proactive measures from governments to ensure that any negative social, environmental, or economic impacts of economy-wide transitions are minimized, whilst benefits are maximized for those disproportionally affected».
Leila Niamir PhD
Computational economist working on energy and climate change mitigation. Dr. Niamir is a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).