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New IPCC report: Only political will stands in way of meeting the Paris targets

Posted on 11 April 2022 by dana1981

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

In the just-released third installment of its Sixth Assessment Report (the first two volumes covered climate change causes and impacts), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summarizes the latest scientific research on efforts to mitigate climate change. Written by 278 authors from 65 countries, the new report can be summarized in one word: “urgency.”

To meet the Paris targets, the IPCC says that global emissions must peak immediately; that governments have not yet implemented sufficient policies to make that happen; and that continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure would create additional stranded assets potentially amounting to trillions of dollars in lost investments.

It’s a bleak picture, but the report also includes a hopeful vision. With a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and transition toward a sustainable world, governments still have time to mitigate the worst of the climate change impacts while reaping many associated benefits – a stronger economy, cleaner air, energy security and price stability, healthier people, fewer premature deaths, and less food and water insecurity, to name a few. And the rapid transition remains technically feasible. “Only” the political will is lacking, but it’s a big only.

The sooner and more quickly governments act, the better the future outlook becomes. But so far, most governments are not acting with the requisite urgency to meet the Paris climate target of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than pre-industrial temperatures. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres put it bluntly in this Tweet.

Ambitious climate action benefits health and economy

One of the key points from the IPCC report: Meeting the Paris target would yield the best outcomes not only for the climate, but also for the economy and people’s health. The document notes that in pathways to limit global warming to less than 2°C,

The corresponding average reduction in annual global GDP growth over 2020-2050 is 0.04-0.09 percentage points … even without accounting for co-benefits of mitigation on other sustainable development dimensions, the global benefits of pathways likely to limit warming to 2°C outweigh global mitigation costs over the 21st century.

In other words, the financial investments needed to curb global warming and meet the Paris targets are cost-effective – cheaper than the extreme weather damages that will result if governments don’t make those investments. And making the transition to a low-carbon economy yield substantial economic and health benefits as a result of cleaner air, healthier people, and avoided premature deaths that result from phasing out fossil fuels. 

The IPCC emphasizes that more aggressive climate policy scenarios involve “higher up-front investments, but bring long-term gains for the economy, as well as earlier benefits of avoided climate change impacts.” The report includes a key summary of climate solutions that can be implemented at less cost than the status quo (blue in the chart below) or at relatively low costs (orange shades). The price of wind and solar energy in particular have plummeted below those of fossil fuels, and efficiency measures can also save money.

Mitigation causes

Land conservation initiatives to help remove carbon from the atmosphere can also yield various co-benefits: improved biodiversity; ecosystem services; food and water security; and land tenure and land-use rights of Indigenous peoples, local communities, and small landowners. The IPCC concludes that carbon removal solutions will be needed to meet the Paris targets, but cautions that they must be deployed in a smart, sustainable way. For example, the report warns that widespread planting of monoculture crops for use as biofuels and other bio-based products can displace food crops and lead to increased food insecurity.

Governments and institutions are falling short

So far, governments are not on track to meet the Paris targets. The IPCC reports that global human greenhouse gas emissions reached 59 billion tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent in 2019, up 12% from 2010 and 54% from 1990. The good news is that the rate of increase has slowed, from 2.1% per year in the 2000s to 1.3% per year in the 2010s. The bad news is that to meet the Paris targets, global emissions must peak immediately and begin to decline before 2030.

But in the absence of new climate policies, the report projects that emissions will instead continue to rise over the coming decade (red line in the figure below). Even including both unconditional and conditional national climate pledges (navy line below), the international community still would fall far short of the emissions cuts needed to stay on track with the Paris targets by 2030. Erasing the emissions gap would thus require steep fossil fuel reductions in decades beyond 2030.

IPCC chart on emissions paths

The IPCC reports that public and private climate investments also are falling short of what’s needed, and fossil fuel financing persists. Climate financial flows, it warns, must rise three to six times higher than current levels by 2030 to meet the Paris targets.

Public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate adaptation and mitigation … There is a climate financing gap which reflects a persistent misallocation of global capital. Persistently high levels of both public and private fossil-fuel related financing continue to be of major concern despite promising recent commitments.

More fossil fuel investments mean more stranded assets

Meanwhile, in response to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, many countries (including the U.S. and members of the E.U.) plan to expand their fossil fuel infrastructure to help reduce international reliance on Russian oil and gas. But the IPCC report warns that estimated future emissions from already existing fossil fuel infrastructure alone will exceed the remaining 1.5°C carbon budget, and that adding in infrastructure now in the planning stages would eat nearly all of the remaining 2°C budget. The IPCC thus warns that the goals of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and preserving a stable climate are incompatible. From the report:

Decommissioning and reduced utilisation of existing fossil fuel installations in the power sector as well as cancellation of new installations are required to align future CO2 emissions from the power sector with projections in these pathways … The combined global discounted value of the unburned fossil fuels and stranded fossil fuel infrastructure has been projected to be around 1–4 trillion dollars from 2015 to 2050 to limit global warming to approximately 2°C, and it will be higher if global warming is limited to approximately 1.5°C.

U.N. Environment Programme Executive Director Inger Andersen said an opportunity to transition to a sustainable economy “did present itself when countries rolled off their docket stimulus packages to help kickstart economies when we faced the COVID-19 pandemic. But on the ‘green scorecard’, we failed, loud and clear. Once again, we now today find ourselves with an opportunity for some, as countries seek out alternative sources of energy … as we rethink hydrocarbon supplies and our dependence on fossil fuels, the solution has to be to kickstart the transition to renewable and cleaner sources of energy.”

The IPCC Working Group III mitigation report has been issued as the U.S. Congress has a rare and fleeting window in which a very narrow legislative majority has shown some willingness and ability to pass major climate investments, and when some European leaders are exploring options to reduce or perhaps even eliminate their reliance on Russian fossil fuels. Where that may actually lead remains uncertain.

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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Once again we see an article that follows this format: 1) Time has almost run out, 2) radically decreasing CO2 emissions is essential, yet they continue to rise, 3) countries' current policies will not reach necessary emissions goals at this rate, 4) here is a list of technological solutions if only there was the political will.  All true.

    But when will Skeptical Science begin to apply its discerning analysis to the proven blockage to progress: the lack of political will? Political Science is a thing, albeit a much squishier one.




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  2. Quite right , Rayates55 .   Although SkepticalScience is a website primarily and almost  exclusively oriented to the scientific aspects of climate change, nevertheless you will find occasional articles on the psychological aspects of science denialism.   Politics, in the sense of partisan politics is hardly touched upon.   And if you hail from the USA, you know how toxic & insane the partisan politics can be ~  about science, epidemics, vaccines, and you-name-it-whatever . . . including public toilets !

    So in the practical area of influencing the various legislatures, SkepticalScience is not a participant.

    Rayates55 , your scope at this website is therefore very minimal for discussing the political science aspects.   But this very thread may be your opportunity to make a brief contribution to such a topic.

    Please start the ball rolling, with your own summary of the important points which you feel would be of practical use !

    ( My own thoughts are that the political world will gradually ramp up its corrective actions, as the technological capabilities slowly improve ~ and as, decade by decade, the worsening situation stimulates voters to demand more action.   So, not very fast.   And if anything good is to come from the recent/current coronavirus pandemic - plus the atrocities of the Ukraine War [happening in Europe, not Africa]  - then it may be that national governments will pay more attention to "resiliency" of local energy supplies & food production & manufacturing. )

    Rayates55 , the floor is yours.  I am all ears, for your insightful ideas.

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    Moderator Response:

    [BL] Everyone reading this and thinking about commenting should be reminded of the section of the  Comments Policy that says:

    No politics. Rants about politics, religion, faith, ideology or one world governments will be deleted. Occasional blogposts on Skeptical Science touch on issues intimately related to politics.  For those posts this rule may be relaxed, but only if explicitly stated at the end of the blogpost.

    As this blog post explicitly has "political will" in the title, it clearly falls into the category of posts that "touch on issues related to politics", but please try to keep it on topic.

  3. Some contributors have noted that the planet birthed another 80 million humans in 2021, now estimated to be a little more than another 80 million in 2022.  80 million is a large number when we account for the carbon footprint and resource consumption of these added persons.  At the current annual rate of population growth, we will be seeing another billion humans by mid 2032 or 2034. I realize that this topic is toxic, but it seems that this problem will overshadow all other efforts to climb down from the loomimg disaster.

    Another large problem, industrial animal agriculture, is not mentioned in the above bar graphs, yet the elimination of animal agriculture is effectively painless because we can grow enough plant food to feed the global population. Industrial animal agriculture, as a leading cause of the climate problem we face, offers an immediate target to drastically reduce emissions and to substantially reduce several other negative impacts that are hoped to be addressed in the above graphs. Why can we not see more about this problem in the literature? 

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    Moderator Response:

    [BL] Off-topic deleted. For some odd reason, you seem to think that complaining about the lack of emphasis on industrial agriculture is on-topic for nearly any blog post. It is getting very tiresome.


  4. I share Eclectic's interest in seeing rayates55 provide more detailed thoughts.

    I am well aware of the harmful history of success of political and consumerism misleading marketing tempting people to believe harmful misunderstandings rather than critically investigate things and learn to be less harmful and more helpful to others.

    SkS includes many helpful tools regarding misleading marketing targeting climate science. Those understandings relate to other harmful misleading marketing that tempts people to like to benefit from harmful activity and related harmful misunderstanding that excuses the harm done, or discredits and distracts from evidence of the harm done, by those who benefit from harm being done.

    Distracting misleading efforts can include attempts to focus attention on the growing population rather than the highest harming portion of the population that has set harmful examples that many lower status people can be expected to aspire to develop towards.

    Clearly, the policy development that is required must focus on identifying harmful pursuits of benefit and make those pursuits less desirable (more expensive or harder to do) regardless of the potential popularity and profitability of more harmful actions being permitted.

    The lack of political will is understandable and is understandably unacceptable.

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