Home Climate Change Wake up call for humanity: Q&A with climate expert on IPCC report

Wake up call for humanity: Q&A with climate expert on IPCC report

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Floods are now frequent in Uganda. Humanitarians are working on highlighting the need to predict crises and act before they manifest to avoid human suffering
Floods are now frequent in Uganda. Humanitarians are working on highlighting the need to predict crises and act before they manifest to avoid human suffering

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released earlier this week, has been billed as a wake up call for humanity. The work of hundreds of scientists from around the world, it warns that the window to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement is quickly closing and with it the world’s chance to stave off a climate catastrophe.

Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change is the third of three reports published over the past eight months. The first looked at the science that underpins climate change; the second examined the impacts of climate change and this week’s report focused on mitigation – or what humanity can do to stop climate change.

We spoke to Niklas Hagelberg, a climate change expert with the United Nations Environment Programme, about the report, what it means for the planet and whether the world can muster the political will to tackle the climate crisis.  

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): Was there anything that surprised you in this report? 

Niklas Hagelberg (NH): I’m afraid not. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. We are nowhere close to taking sufficient action to limit warming to the Paris Agreement targets. The good news is that it is still possible to close the gap to deliver both on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNEP: This report has been billed as a “now-or-never moment” in terms of staving off a climate disaster. Is that a fair assessment? 

NH: Kind of, yes. But I would like to nuance the “now-or-never” wording. The physical science on climate change is clear and the impact of global warming is already being felt across the globe. Our current response is inadequate if we are to [limit the global temperature rise to] 1.5°C and probably even to deliver 2°C. But with climate change every tenth of a degree matters; 1.5°C is better than 1.6°C and 1.6°C is better than 1.7°C. This battle does not end when – or if – we overshoot 1.5°C. We must continue decarbonization and carbon removal until we reach net zero.

UNEP: What positives can we take from this report? 

NH: The science is clear. We know what has to be done and we have options in all sectors to at least halve emissions by 2030. These solutions are cost effective, and they will deliver on the bulk of the SDGs. Early and large-scale action is overwhelmingly positive for human development and well-being.

A polar bear stands on a melting ice flow
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that the window to stave off potentially catastrophic warming is closing. Photo: Imago Images/blickwinkel via Reuters Connect

UNEP: This is the first time there has been a chapter on how changes in people’s consumption habits and lifestyle choices can counter climate change. How important is this so-called demand-side mitigation going to be? 

NH: I’m pleased to see this as a focus of the report. I would like to believe that this inclusion has something to do with the United Nations Environment Programme and our efforts to raise attention to lifestyles and the uneven distribution of emissions across wealth classes.

To close the emissions gap, we need to employ every solution we can, including both sustainable consumption and production. Individuals, the private sector and governments are all dependent on each other. For example, an individual needs to have low-carbon options available at fair prices in order to opt for the climate-smart product or service. The private sector needs consumer demand, policies, and fair competition to offer climate-smart products and solutions. And policymakers and governments need signals from voters and the private sector that decarbonization policies are wanted. We need all hands on deck.

UNEP: The report mentions that, especially in the developing world, there is a shortage of funding for climate-related initiatives.  What needs to be done to close this investment gap?

NH: Investment in climate solutions is no different from normal investment, in that both risk and reward will be critical elements of any investment decision. It is important that we combine public and multilateral climate finance with private investment to ensure that we [reduce the investment risks]. This is particularly important in developing countries. It is also important to look at domestic sources of finance, including national budgets and the private sector, as climate finance tends to be invested in the country of origin. To support climate action in developing countries it’s important to support small and middle-sized businesses as well as catalyze climate finance for large-scale infrastructure.

UNEP: Is there a danger there will be a greater reliance on technological solutions, such as carbon dioxide removal, rather than the deep emissions cuts that are needed? 

NH: We will need all solutions ranging from large-scale use of new and existing technologies to demand-side consumer action, such as shifting to renewable electricity or taking a bike to work. Carbon dioxide removal is important in all IPCC scenarios to reach net-zero emissions, and scientists believe removal solutions – such as ecosystem restoration and direct air capture – will be needed for the 1.5°C target.

UNEP: The report highlights the steps that sectors such as energy, agriculture and transport can take to reduce emissions. What sectors do you see as having made the most progress?  

NH: Average annual emissions from 2010-2019 grew across all sectors but the pace of growth slowed somewhat, particularly in the energy sector,  from 2.3 per cent to 1 per cent per year, and in industry, 3.4 per cent to 1.4 per cent per year. These two sectors account for 58 per cent of all global emissions. The rapid reduction in costs of renewable energy technologies and gains in energy efficiency have started to make a dent [in emissions], albeit nowhere close to what is needed. All sectors need to drastically improve their decarbonization efforts.

UNEP: How important is political will in this?

NH: There are a few examples in our history where political will has been built up quickly, for example, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and during wars. The growing number of climate-related disasters – fires, flooding, storms, droughts – may eventually, deliver the political will.

I hope that the socioeconomic opportunities and the geopolitical realities of shifting markets shares may be another element that will speed up the process. No one wants to be left behind when it comes to producing the products and services that solve climate change, and political will can quickly be built up around these economic opportunities.

This article first appeared on UNEP

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