Focus on recent IPCC reports

energy efficiency, renewable energy, IPCC, greenhouse gas

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an international body established in 1988 and open to all UN Member States. In its last report, published on Sunday 13 April 2014 and entitled Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, the IPCC Working Group III, a sub-section responsible for “assessing all relevant options for mitigating climate change”, highlights the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Global warming and its consequences are inevitable

Temperature rise of up to 4.8°C

According to the report, climate models forecast a temperature rise of 0.3 to 4.8 °C for the 2081-2100 period, compared with the 1986-2005 average. How much exactly global temperature will increase within that range depends on the amounts of greenhouse gases that will be released into the atmosphere in the future. So far the earth has gotten 0.85°C warmer since 1880, and the last thirty years have been the warmest in the northern hemisphere since the medieval climate optimum, 1,400 years ago. From 2000 to 2010, coal production was given a new boost and emissions increased by 2.2% every year, compared with an average 0.4% in the course of the three previous decades.

Climate experts consider with more than 95% confidence that the observed increase in global temperature since the middle of the twentieth century is indeed the consequence of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. In their previous report, that likelihood was already 90%. Unless the international community takes action, the threshold figure of 2°C-rise will be reached as early as 2030.

Sea level rise not to be averted

The report predicts a sea level rise of 29 to 82 centimetres by the late twenty-first century (2081-2100). Climate scientists say the Greenland icecap and Antarctic ice will melt faster than previously expected. In the course of this century, coastal communities, mostly in Asia, Europe and Latin America, will suffer from more and more frequent floods. Let us bear in mind that one in ten people worldwide lives in an area threatened by sea level rise.

Heightened food insecurity and health threats

Farming will be one of the first victims of global warming. According to the IPCC, yields of major crops could diminish by 2% every decade if nothing is done to counter the trend, in a time when outputs should increase by 14% every decade in order to meet an ever-increasing global demand. Finally, the working group mentions future water shortages in Africa, Asia and southern Australia. Sub-Saharan Africa will be hit the hardest as it will face a combination of decreasing agricultural productivity and increasing water insecurity.

Furthermore, the IPCC forecasts a rise in health problems in many regions, especially in developing countries, due to more extreme heat waves, malnutrition and water- and food-borne diseases.

As a consequence, climate change will raise the risk of conflicts and mass migrations due to poorer access to water and food.

Energy efficiency to mitigate global warming

Unless major changes are made swiftly in the way energy is generated (i.e. heavily relying on coal and oil) global temperature will rise by 3.7 to 4.8 °C by 2100. In order to keep the rise below 2 °C, greenhouse gas emissions should be cut by 70% by 2050.

Invest in low-carbon energy sources

One crucial element of climate change mitigation policy is to generate four times more carbon-neutral energy. By stopping investments in fossil fuel extraction, this would help save 110 billion dollars every year, i.e. 0.15% of global GDP,

Improve energy efficiency

According to the IPCC working group, the most urgent steps are about energy saving and energy efficiency. Every year, 700 billion euros should be invested worldwide in the energy efficiency sector and 200 billion euros in the production of electricity derived from renewable sources. “Reducing energy use would give us more flexibility in the choice of low-carbon energy technologies, now and in the future”, said Raimond Pichs-Madruga, an expert from Working Group III.

IEA’s slightly different conclusions

The International Energy Agency has a slightly different take on the issue. It fears that new investments will not suffice to meet global energy demand; rather, future investments should offset the growing scarcity of available resources. At the same time, the IEA recommends that money should keep being invested in oil fields in the Middle East, in order to avoid market instability and an upsurge in energy prices. Fossil fuels will be necessary in the foreseeable future to meet the ever-increasing global energy demand.

In spite of their different views, both international bodies agree that prompt and consistent action is needed to mitigate climate change. IPCC President Rajendra Pachauri tells sceptics that IPCC proposals are realistic and “can substantially reduce the emissions without any loss of economic output or employment opportunities”. The IPCC’s wake-up call should encourage more stakeholder investment and involvement, especially at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

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