Home » Climate and Us | For scientists, approving the new IPCC report was no mean feat

Climate and Us | For scientists, approving the new IPCC report was no mean feat

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Last week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s working group III report titled “Mitigation of Climate Change” was not easy reading. The 64-page summary for policymakers (SPM) had a gist of the key takeaways from the report, which runs into 2,913 pages, and is dense.

Many of us climate reporters were anxious because we knew projections were grim, but we also had to put that urgency across to readers and explain that solutions still do exist.

And yet, this SPM was far more technical and indirect than the SPMs of IPCC’s recent two reports — “The Physical Science Basis” released last August and “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” released in February.

It may have been a far heavier reading because this report is not telling us about the current state of the climate. That is already very well captured in the previous two reports of IPCC. It is now asking countries to jump to action to avert catastrophe.

This also means implementing difficult, disruptive solutions and sharing the burden of mitigating the climate crisis. It is no wonder then that there was major political wrangling over several issues in the SPM during the two-week approval meeting of governments and scientists.

The Third World Network (TWN), a research and advocacy organisation that was present during the two-week approval process of the SPM as an observer, captured some of these conflicts in its bulletins. The approval session of the SPM was to be held from March 21 to April 1, but was extended by two days till April 4 because of disagreements among member nations over various issues.

Some of the most contentious issues included models chosen for assessment not reflecting equity and regional differentiation; databases chosen that consider 1990 as the base year for cumulative historical emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) rather than 1850; the text around categorisation of countries into developed and developing; climate finance; costs of mitigation options and so on, according to TWN.

India objected to the use of GHG emission flows by regions from 1990, even though multiple databases go back to 1850. It said that no explanation was given as to why 1990 was chosen as the base year and that it was an effort to undermine the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities by attempting to dilute the differentiation between developed and developing countries.

TWN in another bulletin said the United States (US) pushed to undermine their climate finance obligations to the developing countries by attempting to remove the two categories — “developed” and “developing” countries — from the SPM text. The US also resisted any reference to the unfulfilled promise of mobilising $100 billion a year by developed countries for developing countries.

A key paragraph under section E.5 of the SPM on “mitigation investment flows and investment needs” was eventually dropped due to a deadlock on country categorisation between US and China. The US reportedly argued that statistical country grouping is outdated and instead pushed for income-based classification to single out emerging economies.

Section E of the SPM deals with strengthening the response to mitigation of the climate crisis. The final wording in the published SPM states: “There are mitigation options which are feasible to deploy at scale in the near term. Feasibility differs across sectors and regions, and according to capacities and the speed and scale of implementation. Barriers to feasibility would need to be reduced or removed, and enabling conditions strengthened to deploy mitigation options at scale.”

“These barriers and enablers include geophysical, environmental-ecological, technological, and economic factors, and especially institutional and socio-cultural factors. Strengthened near-term action beyond the NDCs can reduce and/or avoid long-term feasibility challenges of global modelled pathways that limit warming to 1.5 °C (>50%) with no or limited overshoot.”

See the problem? Apart from the fact that it’s a very roundabout way of saying that we need to take action now to avert disaster, the mention of climate finance, a critical means of implementing solutions, is completely diluted.

We saw similar wrangling playing out during the Glasgow climate conference last November as well. The US had pushed to redefine the “developed” and “developing” country classification but those attempts thankfully did not get through.

Now that we have reached a juncture where countries need to act in the next 10 years or fail to keep global warming under 1.5 or even 2 degrees Celsius, developed countries will try to evade responsibility for historical emissions.

Countries must take IPCC’s mitigation message seriously and act immediately instead of trying to evade responsibility.

Mobilising climate finance for the mitigation of emissions in developing countries is a responsibility and obligation of developed countries under the Paris Agreement. IPCC has also underlined that the burden of mitigating the climate crisis will have to be equitable.

Here are key takeaways for me from the report: Current policies/ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) will lead to global warming of 2.4 degrees Celsius to 3.5 degrees Celsius by end of this century; global financial flows from developed countries are a factor of three to six times lower than levels needed by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goals; average annual GHG emissions in the past decade were higher than any previous decade; global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030 to keep global warming under 1.5/2 degree Celsius.

This will require a very large reduction in fossil fuel use, carbon capture, lifestyle changes that can bring large reductions in GHG emissions including low carbon buildings, minimising food waste, encouraging plant-based diets, shared mobility, electric vehicles, teleworking, compact cities, extending the life of products, and the circular economy.

IPCC has also underlined that countries at all stages of economic development seek to improve the well-being of people, and their development priorities reflect different starting points and contexts, hence equity should be reflected in actions. Congratulations to IPCC scientists who managed to send their message across despite attempts by countries to divert focus.

From the climate crisis to air pollution, from questions of the development-environment tradeoffs to India’s voice in international negotiations on the environment, HT’s Jayashree Nandi brings her deep domain knowledge in a weekly column

The views expressed are personal

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