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Global warning: greenhouse gases must be cut to limit climate change

Global warning: greenhouse gases must be cut to limit climate change

Deep cuts to global greenhouse gases are imperative to mitigate climate change and keep global warming in check, says a report released by Working Group III of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

York University Professor Patricia Perkins of the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change is a lead author of a new chapter in the report (Chapter 5) which tackles the social aspects of mitigation. The IPCC is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

Patricia Perkins

The chapter, Demand, Services, and Social Aspects of Mitigation, examines the conclusion of nearly 100,000 peer-reviewed articles across a range of social science disciplines, including psychology, women’s studies, economics, urban studies and history. It explores what drives consumption-related and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), examines opportunities to provide services that support human well-being with lower GHG emissions, and what shapes consumption patterns and behaviour.

The chapter shows there are strong synergies between sustainable development goals and climate action and demonstrates the synergies between equity-enhancing policies and climate policies.

“Social equity reinforces capacity and motivation to tackle climate change. Explicit attention to equity is essential if we want policies that take on climate change to be effective and socially acceptable. Social equity in turn reinforces capacity to reduce emissions,” says Perkins.

“These are strong conclusions from the literature that haven’t been included in previous IPCC reports which didn’t analyze the social science literature. The basic services required to satisfy human needs and enable human well-being for all could be provided at 40 to 60 per cent of current final global energy demand.”

This report shows that taking ambitious climate action can contribute to ending poverty and hunger, improving people’s health and well-being, providing clean energy and water, and protecting nature.

“This is far from a given conclusion. Government, business, finance, consumers, technical and cultural change are all part of the huge effort that’s urgently required to realize these reductions,” says Perkins.

Waste reduction, recycling, energy improvements through sustainable changes, and massive shifts from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources are needed. Ongoing technological improvements are required as is making energy-efficient technologies available worldwide to support decent living standards and human well-being.

Importantly, 36 countries have already achieved peak GHG emissions at various levels of income and economic development.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” says IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. 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.

Consumer behaviour is already changing, according to Chapter 5 authors, and can certainly be accelerated via policy and infrastructure advances. Examples include reliance on public transit and active transportation, plant-based foods, reduced food waste, reduced air travel, more materials recycling and efficiency-enhancing technological changes of many kinds.

The report suggests the top 10 per cent of the world’s income earners, who are responsible for 37 per cent of global GHG emissions, have a great ability to reduce their emissions, and the richest one per cent, responsible for 15 per cent of global emissions, can afford to drastically reduce. Investors can divest from fossil fuels and invest in carbon-neutral technologies. The report notes that providing increased low-emissions energy to support decent living standards for all, worldwide, will have a negligible impact on global warming.

The Working Group III report is part of IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The last UN climate report, AR5, was published in 2014. AR6 is an updated global assessment of climate change mitigation progress and pledges and examines the sources of global emissions. It explains developments in emission reduction and mitigation efforts, assessing the impact of national climate pledges in relation to long-term emissions goals.

Although the cost of solar and wind energy, and batteries, have decreased by up to 85 per cent since 2010, substantial reductions in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency and the use of alternative fuels are necessary to at least halve emissions by 2030.

Like previous reports, IPCC’s AR6 assesses the scientific knowledge on climate change, including future impacts and risks, and options for how to adapt and mitigate it. The report provides information for policymakers on successful and promising approaches to address climate change. Scientists assess all relevant scientific, technical and socio-economic publications for the reports.

It also addresses access to services and affordability, patterns of development and indicators of well-being, the sharing economy, collaborative consumption, implications of information and communication technologies for mitigation opportunities and more.

Working Group III is led by two co-Chairs, Jim Skea, based at Imperial College London, and PR Shukla, based at Ahmedabad University. A video trailer of Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, Working Group III Sixth Assessment Report can be viewed on YouTube.