Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: How global warming can be curbed

Coal power station
“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future.” – IPCC Chair, Hoesung Lee (Source: IMAGO / Future Image)

The Earth is heating up. From 2010 to 2019, mankind emitted more greenhouse gas emissions than ever before. However, it is still possible to at least curb global warming and to limit the global temperature increase since the beginning of the industrial era to critical values like 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the third part of its sixth assessment report compiled together what humanity must now undertake to prevent a major catastrophe. The report was published on Monday.

The good news is that progress is being made. “We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said the IPCC Chair, Hoesung Lee. Scientists all around the world are recognising climate protection measures more and more.

As an example, the IPCC cited the crucial sector of energy production: solar and wind power with batteries for storage are especially necessary for sustainable change. The cost of this technology has decreased by up to 85 percent since 2010. Furthermore, new measures and laws would have increased energy efficiency, reduced deforestation and accelerated the development of renewable energy.

Nevertheless, “big changes” are still needed to be implemented quickly – especially with regard to energy production. “Emissions reduction to address (climate change) would need to be on the scale seen in the pandemic year after year,” wrote the IPCC on Twitter. For example, the use of fossil fuels would need to be massively reduced and a wide-scale implementation of electrical energy. Alternative fuel sources like hydrogen are necessary and the energy efficiency would need to continue to be increased.

“I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries,” said Lee. "There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”

New lifestyle required

Hundreds of scientists from 65 countries evaluated tens of thousands of studies for the report in past years. The report is deemed to have the most comprehensive and internationally recognised status for climate research. In the current interim report, they cover measures for a reduction in climate change.

The authors view it as realistic that emissions can be halved in most sectors by 2030 – provided that action is made quickly and with intent.

Co-author, Priyadarshi Shukla pleads for adjustments in lifestyle and behaviour to be made. This includes eating less meat or to be more environmentally conscious. By doing so, greenhouse gas emissions could even be reduced by 40 to 70 percent by 2050. However, having the correct political action, infrastructures and technologies would also be needed. A positive side effect of sustainable change would an improvement in the health and the well-being of humans.

Changes in cities, industry and agriculture

About a fourth of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions originate from industry. In order to reduce this, it is necessary to produce less trash and to use materials more efficiently and multiple times by recycling.

Production processes with low greenhouse gas emissions (or none at all) for raw materials like steel, building materials and chemicals are either in the experimental phase or close to being ready for the market. It will, however, be difficult to make the industry sector CO2-neutral. New production processes, low-emission and zero-emission electricity and hydrogen are needed. Nevertheless, excessive carbon dioxide would need to be stored in storage facilities.

Even agriculture and forestry could still contribute on a “large scale” to reducing emissions. Land needs to be used differently so that it absorbs carbon dioxide. However, absorbing CO2 with land would not counterbalance the delayed reduction in emissions from other sectors.

Urban areas also provide other possibilities for reducing emissions. Cities need to be more compact and accessible by foot with electro-mobility and zero-emission energy sources.

“We see examples of zero energy or zero-carbon buildings in almost all climates,” said IPCC Co-Chair Jim Skea. “Action in this decade is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.”

CO2 storage alone isn’t enough

Scientists consider it increasingly likely that global warming will temporarily pass the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees before it could be reduced again with appropriate action before the end of the century. In order to reduce global warming again, greenhouse gas emissions would need to reach their peak by 2025 and reduced by 43 percent until 2030. At the same time, methane emissions would also need to be reduced by approximately a third.

Removing CO2 from the atmosphere, which has been considered for the first time by the IPCC in more detail, could also play a role in greenhouse gas reduction. While experts support developing and researching such techniques, they caution against relying on them. No technology of this type could compensate what is missing from necessary reductions in other areas.

Climate change makes independent

The Climate-Alliance Germany, a network of numerous organisations, called for a reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels. "A sprint to say goodbye to coal, oil and gas is necessary to curb the climate crisis”, explained executive director Christiane Averbeck. The Russian war against Ukraine shows that such a departure also minimizes the dependency from authoritarian regimes.

The Fridays for Future movement expressed alarm. The report clearly shows: “The window of opportunity to meet the Paris climate agreement is rapidly closing.” Carbon dioxide already needs to be removed from the atmosphere to comply with the 1.5 degree limit. However, waiting for a “technological miracle” would be in vain. “There is no option for removing CO2 that replaces the need for a radical reduction in emissions.” The movement harshly criticized the federal government, which consists of the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany), the Greens and the FDP (Free Democratic Party of Germany), stating that its climate protection plans are not sufficient.

Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, Robert Habeck (Green), wants to present a legislative package in the near future that should greatly increase the energy transition in Germany. In the past year, Germany failed to meet its climate goal.

“File of shame”

The State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action, Jennifer Morgan, reacted concerned: “Today’s report shows with frightening clarity once again that the world is on fire and the international community is not yet doing enough to put out this fire. All countries must now do more to keep the 1.5 degree path open and thus avert even more dramatic, irreversible impacts on our lives and the environment on our planet," she urged.

Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, made serious accusations against the economy and politics. “It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world,” he stressed in a video message. “They are choking our planet,” Guterres said about governments and companies, which are responsible for high greenhouse gas emissions. Guterres called upon the global population to take action themselves: “Demand that renewable energy is introduced now — at speed and at scale.” (dpa / hcz)