A Brief Guide to the IPCC Synthesis Report, part C
This piece provides a summary of the latest IPCC synthesis report based on their sixth Assessment Report (AR6), part C, which deals with the ‘Urgency of Near-Term Integrated Action’. In other words, what we need to do by 2030 to have any chance of meeting the 1.5° or 2° targets.
As with the previous summaries, nothing here is likely to be too surprising to climate activists – the value is in seeing the situation laid out so systematically in the report, but also in the shortcomings that even this otherwise hard-hitting report exhibits, and which are touched on in the critique section.
Most starkly, ‘the choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years’. The level of urgency has increased since AR5.
Climate resilient development integrates adaptation and mitigation and requires international co-operation, but there is a ‘rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.’
The report warns that past development constrains future paths, as does every increment of warming. Existing constraints include:
- Poverty, inequity and injustice,
- Siloed responses,
- Barriers to finance and technology,
- Trade-offs with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
‘Deep, rapid and sustained mitigation’ together with ‘accelerated implementation of adaptation actions’ this decade would reduce losses and damages and improve air quality and health. By contrast, delaying would lock in high emissions infrastructure, risk stranded assets, and increase costs, losses and damages, while lowering the chances of success.
High upfront investment is needed, with ‘significant distributional consequences within and between countries’, along with potentially disruptive changes in lifestyle. The cost Vs benefit equation tips in favour of benefits the more rapidly investment is undertaken. Significantly, however, the investment required during 2020-2030 to limit warming to 2° or 1.5°are a factor of three to six greater than current levels.
Sustainable development requires just transition principles in employment. Eradicating extreme poverty and providing sustainable development in low-emitting countries ‘can be achieved without significant global emissions growth.’ Finance and technology development is required to leapfrog or transition to low emissions.
Vulnerability is exacerbated by inequity and marginalisation linked to gender, ethnicity, disability, age, income level and historic and ongoing patterns of colonialism. By contrast, ‘individuals with high socio-economic status contribute disproportionately to emissions.’ Reducing emissions-intensive consumption is strongly associated with societal well-being
Comments on specific sectors
Components of rapid mitigation and adaptation action are summarised diagrammatically. By far the biggest contributors to emissions reduction are:
- Adoption of solar and wind,
- Stop destroying natural ecosystems,
- Better agricultural practices, and
- Ecosystem restoration and reforestation
Energy – both nuclear and Carbon Capture and Storage are in the set of mitigation options, but their contribution to emissions reduction is very small compared to solar and wind. The broad aim to minimise fossil fuel use and adopt CCS for the rest, recasts the use of CCS as only applying to ‘residual’ fossil fuel usage in the near-term. This implies that CCS, like fossil fuels themselves, is time bound to the period while fossil fuels are phased out (though how this squares with the fact that CCS remains at this point unproven is not clear).
Transport – notes the need for demand management, but also a role for ‘sustainable biofuels’ in shipping, aviation and heavy-duty road transport. Similar reductions are ascribed to EVs as for public transport, but this only considers conversion of what’s there, not a modal shift to public transport
Cities – the range of measures we’d expect (retrofit, efficient design and construction, public transport etc.) but also co-location of jobs and housing (one for the LTN fans) and long-term inclusive planning to include those on low incomes.
Land, ocean, food, water – reducing deforestation in tropical regions is identified as having the highest mitigation potential. Reforestation must be considered in terms of trade-offs with enabling food security. Conserving peatlands, wetlands, mangroves and forests delivers immediate benefits.
Improved agriculture – doesn’t actually mention livestock but could be seen as implicit in ‘sustainable healthy diets’, reducing methane and nitrous oxide, and freeing up land for ecosystem restoration.
In terms of land and water, there is a need to recognise the inherent rights of Indigenous People as ‘integral to successful adaptation and mitigation.’
As previously mentioned, the report does provide a profoundly distressing view of what could happen if radical action does not begin immediately. It also reinforces our intuitive understanding that overcoming global and societal inequalities are a fundamental component of the struggle to prevent climate catastrophe.
‘There is sufficient global capital to close the global investment gaps but there are barriers to redirect capital to climate action.’ This is a supreme understatement, as this is our number one problem! The report does note that the ‘barriers’ include both greed (i.e. wealth accumulation) and the debt that burdens many developing countries.
In terms of solutions, there is some ambivalence in the language. While there is much that we could take as coded language for the drastically different mode of social organisation that is needed, there is scope for interpretation – this might be a cautious ‘strategic’ approach but given the scenarios it might be past time to be less equivocal.
For example, the report states that government, civil society and the private sector must make ‘inclusive development choices that prioritise risk reduction, equity and justice’. This is clearly a jibe at the private sector but implies that it needs to do better, not that it is part of the problem. There is an optimistic view of ‘the market’ bringing down costs, and a level of collaboration/co-operation that can’t currently be assumed.
On the plus side, ‘feasible, effective and low-cost options are already available’ and there is an acknowledged need for social safety nets, early warning systems, disaster risk management and contingency plans to reduce the risk to the most vulnerable. (All are missing from current UK policy.)
Secretary, Greener Jobs Alliance