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UN Climate Panel: Time is running out

Climate news - News and opinions about climate science

Published 20.04.2022

Never before have so many people done so much to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Still, time is running out for the 1.5-degree target. There is technology, enough capital and a lot of political will, but the pace must increase on all fronts if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, shows a new report from the UN Climate Panel.

Greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 55 percent since 1990 and the strongest increase took place between 2000 and 2010. Never before have the countries of the world done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and since 2010, growth in global emissions has slowed. However, global emissions continue to rise, partly as a result of increased global production in industry, energy, transport, agriculture and construction.

Without strengthening current climate policy, the global average temperature will rise by 3.2 degrees in 2100.

The pace of change must increase radically to keep warming below 2 degrees. Stopping the temperature increase at 2 degrees requires that CO2 emissions are down to net zero in 2070 or already in 2050, if the goal is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Between 2020 and 2025, global emissions must have reached their peak and from then on must decrease every year.

Sub-report 3 in the UN's climate panel's sixth main report presents various emission paths that can lead to anything from below 1.5 to above 4 degrees warming but describes to a small degree how likely they are. Trajectories that are consistent with the countries' obligations under the Paris Agreement and where efforts increase significantly after 2030, show that we can limit warming to 1.6 degrees in 2100.

However, this will require immediate and comprehensive emission reductions in all sectors. Fossil fuels must be replaced by energy sources with zero or low emissions, we must use carbon capture and storage, reduce consumption and increase energy efficiency, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases other than CO2 and remove CO2 from the atmosphere. To manage this, comprehensive packages of measures and instruments are needed, as well as mechanisms that ensure that the ambitions are tightened over time.

The benefits of keeping the heating below 2 degrees are greater than what the measures will cost. There is enough capital on a global basis to finance the restructuring, but as of today, too little is invested in both emission reduction measures and adaptation, and far too little in developing countries.

Countries that can design decision-making processes and policy packages that are well adapted to their specificities are better equipped to reduce emissions. If some countries or sectors postpone the changeover or implement few measures, other countries and sectors must do more.

 

The most important points in the report as CICERO's authors see it:

Elin Lerum Boasson, lead author of Chapter 13 on national climate policy:

- Never before have the countries of the world done more to reduce climate pollution. The measures are still too few and weak to prevent global growth in emissions, but had it not been for all climate policy, emissions would be much higher. Almost all countries in the world now have an active climate policy, and many have very comprehensive packages of instruments. Many countries have also succeeded in cutting emissions. This applies to both the EU, and Norway's neighbors Denmark and Sweden.

- To reduce emissions to zero, comprehensive packages of measures and instruments are needed, as well as mechanisms that ensure that ambitions are tightened over time. Carbon pricing is effective, but not alone enough. In addition, one must introduce a set of objectives and instruments, and have systems that ensure that the instrument packages are developed as one understands more of the specific challenges in each individual country.

- It is also not enough to introduce new climate policy instruments; we must also take into account that existing public rules that are designed for completely different purposes (such as economic growth and social equalization) may have to be changed.

- There is no single climate policy recipe that fits in all countries. A number of national conditions determine which climate policies are possible to adopt, and which measures will be most effective.

- For example, it seems that it is easier to get climate policy adopted in countries with parliamentarism than in countries with a presidential government. Factors that are important include: a country's traditions for cooperation between business and political decision-makers, which industries dominate and how many and strong voluntary organizations work for or against climate change.

-If a sector or country postpones or fails to implement emission reductions, it means that other sectors or countries must cut more. The Paris Agreement has led to drastic changes in the dynamics of international climate policy, and to a certain extent it has succeeded in creating competition between countries to reduce emissions. Authorities that not only focus on immediate emission cuts, but also emphasize increased support in the population, will have a greater chance of achieving climate change in the order of magnitude we need.

 

Glen Peters, lead author of Chapter 3 on emission trajectories

- It is impossible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees without extensive changes in climate policy. Development paths that consider the current official, national climate promises (NDC) for 2030, all show a warming of over 1.5 degrees.

-To stabilize the temperature, CO2 emissions must be reduced to net zero. This means that greenhouse gas emissions cannot be higher than the emissions. The longer we wait, the higher the temperature will stabilize. If we want to keep the increase below 1.5 degrees, CO2 emissions must be net zero in the first half of 2050. For 2 degrees, we must have reached net zero in the first half of 2070.

- Development paths include extensive reductions in the consumption of fossil fuels, massive development of renewable energy production and electrification of the energy system. And there may still be a need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate for residual emissions.

- The benefits of following the development paths that limit heating to 2 degrees are greater than the costs of implementing them.

Christa Clapp, lead author of Chapter 15 on climate finance

- There is sufficient global capital to finance the world's climate needs, but it will require strong political signals to mobilize capital towards climate change and adaptation. The financial sector cannot solve the climate crisis alone. Ambitious and coordinated global efforts and increased climate financing over the next ten years can help turn the capital markets in the right direction. The persistently high level of both private and public investment in fossil energy sources still raises concerns. If we do not change the investments in line with the Paris Agreement, we will be locked into high emissions and so-called "stranded assets". This will particularly affect urban infrastructure, energy, and transport.

- Today's investments in climate measures are not sufficient and the largest gap between needs and cash flows is found in developing countries and climate adaptation measures. If the 1.5-degree target is to be reached, the need for capital in 2030 will be three to six times higher than current investments. Several countries and financial actors have promised increased financial support for climate measures, but this is happening far too slowly to be in line with the urgent need for climate action.

- The distance between capital needs and supply is greatest for developing countries. Globally, more than 90 per cent of all climate finance goes to emission reduction measures. Differences in access to finance and to the capital markets, combined with the fact that physical climate risk is becoming increasingly expensive for countries to deal with, means a weakening of the prospects for a globally just transition.

Investors, central banks, and financial regulators have increased awareness of climate risk that can support the development and implementation of climate policy. There are a number of new approaches such as risk mitigation instruments, green bonds and schemes for exposing climate risk. This can help increase capacity and pave the way for increased capital flows over time.

Read more about our IPCC authors