Incremental change is not enough if we want to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C, says the IPCC’s Working Group III, which includes UNSW sustainability expert Tommy Wiedmann.
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released overnight, was delivered with a bleak warning: limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C is beyond reach without significantly reducing emissions immediately.
But the good news is that thanks to advances in renewable energy technologies that have become vastly cheaper in the last decade, it is possible that greenhouse gases can be halved by 2030 – meaning the Paris Agreement goals would still be achievable.
The report, titled Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change, was written by 278 scientists from 65 countries that comprised IPCC’s Working Group III. It revealed that in the 10 years from 2010-2019, average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, although the rate of growth has slowed.
Professor Tommy Wiedmann, an expert in sustainability at UNSW Sydney and an author of the report, said a modest reprieve in emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was sadly only short-lived.
“There was a drop of about 6 per cent in 2020 because of COVID-19,” he said. “But last year, emissions increased again to about the same level as in 2019.
“Some greenhouse gas-intensive activities have grown particularly fast between 2010 and 2020. For example: sales of sports utility vehicles went up 17 per cent, aviation increased 29 per cent. And energy demand for cooling in residential buildings went up 40 per cent.”
The way cities should change
Cities and other urban areas also offer significant opportunities for emissions reductions, the report says. These can be achieved through lower energy consumption (such as by creating compact, walkable cities), electrification of transport in combination with low-emission energy sources, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature.
“We see examples of zero energy or zero-carbon buildings in almost all climates,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea. “Action in this decade is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.”
Agriculture, forestry, and other land use can provide large-scale emissions reductions, the report says, and also remove and store carbon dioxide at scale. However, land cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors.
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