TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Apr14/03)
14 April 2014
Third World Network  

IPCC’s new mitigation report delivers stark warning for action

Berlin, 13 March, (Meena Raman)- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comprising 195 governments, adopted the Summary Report for Policy Makers (SPM) on mitigation after a gruelling week of meetings that went on through late nights, with the government delegates and some of the scientists who authored the draft going through the 33-page text line by line, with many dozens of amendments.

The meeting in Berlin on 7-12 April was of Working Group III (WG3), dealing with mitigation of climate change, of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). 

The SPM on mitigation is comprised of five sections, beginning with a section on ‘introduction’ followed by - approaches to climate change mitigation; trends in stocks and flows of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and their drivers; mitigation pathways and measures in the context of sustainable development (long-term mitigation pathways and sectoral/cross-sectoral mitigation pathways and measures) as well as mitigation policies and institutions (sectoral and national policies and international cooperation).

The findings of the SPM were indeed cause for much concern and included the following:

- About half of the cumulative anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions between 1750 and 2010 occurred in the last 40 years.  In 1970, cumulative CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production and flaring since 1750 were about 420 giga tonnes (Gt) and had tripled to 1,300 GtCO2 in 2010. Cumulative CO2 emissions from forestry and other land use (FOLU) since 1750 increased from about 490 GtCO2 in 1970 to about 680 GtCO2 in 2010. (One Gt is equivalent to one billion tonne).

- Despite a growing number of climate change mitigation policies, annual GHG emissions grew on average by 1 GtCO2 equivalent or 2.2% per year from 2000 to 2010 compared to 0.4 GtCO2 equivalent or 1.3% from 1970 to 2000. Total GHG emissions were highest in human history from 2000 to 2010 and reached about 49 GtCO2 equivalent in 2010.

- Annual GHG emissions have increased by 10GtCO2 equivalent between 2000 and 2010, with this increase directly coming from energy supply (47%), industry (30%), transport (11%) and buildings (3%) sectors.

- Without additional mitigation action to reduce emissions, based on emission scenarios, the concentration levels of GHGs in the atmosphere, driven by growth in population and economic activities, is expected to jump from 430 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 equivalent in 2011 to 450 ppm by 2030 and 750 to more than 1,300 ppm by 2100.

- This growth of emissions and concentration of GHGs is projected to raise the global mean surface temperature in 2100 from 3.7 to 4.8 degrees C above the pre-industrial levels.  (The present temperature is about 0.8 degree C above pre-industrial levels. A rise by over 2 degree C is considered disastrous while a 4 degree C rise would be catastrophic).

- Mitigation scenarios in which it is likely that the temperature change caused by GHG emissions can be kept to less than 2 degree C relative to pre-industrial levels are characterised by atmospheric concentrations in 2100 of about 450 ppm CO2 equivalent.

- According to the mitigation scenarios, reaching atmospheric concentration levels of about 450 ppm CO2 equivalent by 2100 (which is consistent with a likely chance to keep global warming below 2 degrees C relative to pre-industrial levels), requires substantial cuts in GHG emissions by mid-century through large scale changes in energy systems and potentially land use.   To attain this concentration (and not higher), implies lower global GHG emissions in 2050 of 40% to 70% below 2010 levels and emissions levels near zero in 2100.

- The mitigation pledges made by governments in Cancun, Mexico (in 2010) are broadly consistent with cost-effective scenarios that are likely to keep temperature change below 3 degree C relative to pre-industrial levels. Meeting the below 2 degree C goal would require further substantial reductions beyond 2020. 

- Delaying mitigation efforts beyond those in place today through 2030 is estimated to substantially increase the difficulty of the transition to low longer-term emissions levels and narrow the range of options consistent with maintaining temperature change below 2 degree C relative to pre-industrial levels.

- Only a limited number of studies have explored scenarios that are more likely than not to bring temperature change back to below 1.5 degree C by 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels; these scenarios bring atmospheric concentrations to below 430 ppm

The mitigation reports discussed in Berlin were the third in the series of the IPCC’s AR5.  The first set, on the physical science basis, was completed in Stockholm in September 2013; and the second set, on adaptation, was agreed to in Yokohama in late March this year.

The Berlin meeting was conducted by the Co-chairs of WG3, who are Ottmar Edenhofer (Germany), Ramón Pichs-Madruga (Cuba) and Youba Sokona  (Mali).

Linked to the SPM was an “Underlying Report”, comprising over a thousand pages, organised in 16 chapters, which over a thousand scientists had worked on for the past three years, as well as a 100-page Technical Summary.  

These two reports, more lengthy and technical than the SPM, were not the subject of negotiations by the governments, nor were they “adopted.”  They were however “accepted” by the governments, but many delegations (all from developing countries) registered conditions and reservations in a final plenary session before the acceptance of these reports.

(Further reports on this are to follow).