Insight: What the latest IPCC report tells us

Andy Reisinger, Climate Change Commissioner and vice chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, shares his personal key messages from the group’s latest report.

We know what we need to do and we know how to do it. It’s time for us to act now.

The latest IPCC report was blunt in its assessment of how little time there is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees: unless there are immediate and deep emission reductions across all sectors, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees will be beyond reach. Following current commitments to 2030 makes it likely that global warming will exceed 1.5 degrees, resulting in increased climate related losses and damages.

If we follow current commitments until 2030, even limiting warming to 2 degrees could only be achieved with a rapid acceleration of mitigation efforts after 2030. Such an acceleration would be challenging if there is a lack of investment and implementation of more ambitious policies before 2030. For example, existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure alone would nearly exhaust the remaining carbon budget for remaining below 2 degrees. Every new fossil fuel installation is a potential stranded asset.

However, there is increased evidence of climate action globally. Costs of key renewable energy sources such as wind and solar have fallen by more than 85% since 2010, and more than 50% of global greenhouse emissions are under some kind of climate legislation. Policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy. Climate policy works if implemented consistently.

There are options for emission reductions in every sector. Collectively, these options could cut global GHG emissions at least in half by 2030, at costs below US$100/tCO2-eq. Some of those options are estimated to be available at relatively low costs or could even result in cost savings, while others rely on more significant up-front investment and transformative change. Reductions are needed in every sector if the world wants to achieve the temperature limits and emission goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

We know how to make progress and how to accelerate progress. This includes:

  • a significant upscaling of climate finance
  • increasing the stringency and coverage of climate policies to include sectors that so far have been excluded from stringent policies,
  • building packages of policies that can achieve more systemic and sustained change than single instruments
  • increasing coordination across climate and non-climate policies (such as urban and rural development, transport, public health)
  • building consensus among disparate stakeholders.

International cooperation remains critical to achieve ambitious climate goals, with transnational partnerships, and collaboration at local government level playing an increasing role.

Human-induced climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles, and patterns of consumption and production. Accelerated and equitable climate action in mitigating, and adapting to, climate change impacts is critical to sustainable development.

A focus on demand for services (eg, nutrition, mobility, warm and healthy homes) rather than raw inputs (eg, meat supply, energy, housing supply) can open up a large potential to reduce emissions while increasing well-being. But this relies on structural and cultural change. Shifting the behaviour of hundreds of millions of individuals relies on creating and using infrastructure and technology to reshape the way we live, such as more compact cities; options for public transport, walking and cycling; and reduced the emissions footprint of housing through design and retrofitting. We need integrated policies to enable and support behaviour change and to complement emission reductions in the supply of goods and services.

This is my personal take on some of the key findings in the latest IPCC report – I recommend that anyone interested in mitigating climate change take the time to delve into the full report, or at least the summary for policymakers, both of which can be found on the IPCC website.

Here in Aotearoa, the release of the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan next month is an important moment for climate action here.  The time for action is now.