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IPCC Report on Climate Adaptation and Mitigation

Experts respond to the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Summary for Policymakers on “mitigating climate change, and the underlying technical, economic and institutional requirements”.

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Professor Hugh Outhred is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Electrical Engineering & Telecommunications at The University of New South Wales

“The IPCC Working Group 3 Summary for Policymakers reinforces the key messages from Working Groups 1 and 2 that climate change is real has dangerous consequences for humanity and requires our immediate action to mitigate human--‐caused climate change emissions. Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate change and is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for both domestic use and export. Australian society has demonstrated that it has the capability to take a leading role in developing and implementing low--‐emission technologies and adopting low--‐emission lifestyles. However, that seems unlikely given the present combative and ill‐informed political debate about climate change and the influence of the fossil fuel lobby.”

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Dr Liz Hanna is a Fellow of the National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health at the Australian National University, and President of the Climate and Health Alliance. She is also currently Director of an NHMRC Project: Working in the Heat – health risks and adaptation needs

Text in italics is taken from the Summary for Policymakers

[On the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) Chapter 3 - Trends in stocks and flows of greenhouse gases and their drivers: ‘Total anthropogenic GHG emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute decadal increases toward the end of this period’]

“This means that despite all the negotiations, agreements and promises, governments around the world, including Australia, have failed. In the face of an increasingly likely crisis, they have continued to put lives of millions at risk. Grandstanding, passing the buck of responsibility and waiting for others to reduce their carbon emissions wastes precious time, time that we simply do not have.

Decarbonising our lives is everybody’s business. Governments, industries communities and every household needs to do everything within their capacity to stop releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Per capita, Australians contribute more to the problem than every other OECD country.

Contrary to the scare tactics, moving away from fossil fuel based economy can lead to a better, more fruitful, and healthier life than we have today. Cities promoting effective public transport systems and active transport, where people walk and cycle more, have cleaner air, more green spaces for recreation and this improves mental health.”

[On baseline scenarios, those without additional mitigation, result in global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 from 3.7 to 4.8oC compared to pre-industrial levels (the range is 2.5°C to 7.8°C when including climate uncertainty)]

“We have been tracking along the higher end of this range, and increasing rates of emissions guarantees us future high levels of warming. We must stop. This warming is not compatible with human existence.

These figures of average warming are not the full story. From a health perspective, it is the weather extremes that this brings. On average, Australia has warmed less than one degree, and this have delivered already record heat waves, temperature over 46 degrees in our major cities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II report makes the situation quite clear. The scale and pace of climate change puts humanity into clear and evident danger.

[On delaying mitigation efforts beyond those in place today 1 through 2030 is estimated to substantially 2 increase the difficulty of the transition to low longer‐term emissions levels and narrow the range 3 of options consistent with maintaining temperature change below 2°C relative to pre‐industrial 4 levels (high confidence) and delaying additional 24 mitigation further increases mitigation costs in the medium to long term (Table SPM.2, blue 5 segment). Many models could not achieve atmospheric concentration levels of about 450 ppm 26 CO2eq by 2100 if additional mitigation is considerably delayed or under limited availability of key 27 technologies, such as bioenergy, CCS, and their combination (BECCS).]

“Delaying strong mitigation efforts lowers the likelihood that warming could be curtailed at 2 degrees. This wilful disregard for human safety should be recognised for what it is, short term gain at the expense of a collective future in a world that is habitable.

Delay also incurs increasingly prohibitive mitigation costs. Combined, these subject todays’ children and young adults to a world where governments must spend more to mitigate, at a time when more extreme weather events necessitate higher costs on repairing infrastructure, and relocating vital services away from coastlines. Diminished funds will be available for health and education and nation building.

Prompt action is an economic imperative, and a moral imperative.”

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Amanda McKenzie is the Chief Executive Officer of the Climate Council

“Renewable energy is critical to tackling climate change. Australians have already taken steps to increase renewable energy and this report shows we need to do more. It’s clear that the renewables race has begun.

Shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy is a key part of tackling climate change and has other benefits, for instance growing new jobs, industries and investment. Australians know that solar power is just common sense here, so there is a lot of community support for greater investment in renewables.

On the other side of the ledger, Australia is also home to some very inefficient and aging coal fired power plants. That means our current electricity supply is one of the most emissions intensive and least efficient in the world.”

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Professor David Stern is from the Crawford School of Public Policy at the The Australian National University and a lead author of Chapter 5: Trends, Drivers, and Mitigation

“Over the last four decades, per capita emissions from all sources – energy use, land-clearing etc – declined in both the poorest and the richest countries but rose in middle income countries. Because of population growth, total emissions rose in all regions. Total emissions from developing countries (low and middle income) now exceed those from the developed countries.

Global greenhouse gas emissions rose more rapidly between 2000 and 2010 than in the previous three decades and this is mainly because of rapid growth in emissions in middle income countries like China. The decline in per capita emissions in low-income countries is because of a reduction in per capita emissions from agriculture and land-clearing and an absolute reduction in those emissions in the decade 2000 to 2010.

However, per capita emissions remain very unequal globally with emissions per capita in high-income countries averaging nine times the level in the lowest income countries. This means that there is a lot of scope for “catch-up growth” in emissions under business as usual and points to the need to switch to low carbon energy sources as soon as possible. This is because the majority of emissions are derived from energy use and energy efficiency improvements have historically been insufficient to offset the growth in income per capita let alone population growth, especially in the decade 2000 to 2010.”

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Professor Richard Harper is Chair in Sustainable Water Management, Leader of Agriculture at Murdoch University, WA and a lead author on Chapter 11: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land-Uses (AFOLU)

“The new report from the IPCC’s Working Group III contains a chapter on the land sector – Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses. This clearly outlines how the land both contributes to global emissions, but also provides some real options for emissions management.

Basically, there are three ways the land can contribute to carbon management – by reducing emissions from existing carbon stocks (e.g. clearing forests) or agricultural activities, by increasing carbon stocks in soils or vegetation (carbon sinks), or by replacing fossil fuel emissions by burning biomass or using wood products.

The report considers each of these options, and in particular the opportunities that may arise and also the trade-offs. For example, reducing the rate of deforestation can protect biodiversity, planting trees on farmland can improve water supplies, applying nitrogen fertilizers more efficiently can reduce both emissions into the air and water ways. However, with an increasing global population that will demand more food per capita and future climate change itself, a challenge is to ensure that these measures complement, rather than displace food production.

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Professor Glenn Albrecht is Director of the Institute for Social Sustainability at Murdoch University, WA

“The Working Group III Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change focuses on the scientific, technological, environmental, economic and social aspects of mitigation of climate change. The ethical implications of this report deserve particular attention because while global warming and consequent climate change are the subjects of increasing scientific investigation, our responses to such knowledge must lie within the realm of ethics. When the consensus on the accuracy of the science is near 100%, we must ask, why are we imposing such a massive risk of social, economic, industrial and agricultural disruption and failure on ourselves? The ethics of greenhouse gas mitigation require of all nations and people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will deliver a safer world for all. In Australia, given the dominant role that burning fossil fuels has in generating greenhouse gas emissions, to do our just share to reduce the risk, we must urgently and systematically reduce our use and export of coal, petroleum and gas. At the same time, we must invest ethically and economically in a new era where we make a just and equitable transition to non-polluting, renewable energy sources.”

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Professor Joseph Reser is from the School of Applied Psychology at Griffith University, Queensland

“These comprehensive reports covering the past five years of intensive research bring into sharp relief the increasingly critical urgency for adequate global response. Yet many crucial considerations relating to the human dimensions and impacts of climate change have not been on the radar of climate change science. Climate change adaptation and mitigation, for example, are closely inter-related processes and responses from a psychological and individual experience and behaviour perspective. Personal engagement with the issue and ‘taking action’ in the context of one’s own life style and circumstances can play crucial roles and provide multiple benefits in addition to reducing one’s carbon footprint. Being engaged and doing something helps people to come to terms with the reality and implications of climate change, and feel that they are making a difference, being informed and responsible, and part of the solution and not just the collective problem. These psychological adaptation processes and outcomes reflect powerful and interactive synergies between coping and doing. Yet rarely do we hear about the psychological side of this ongoing environmental threat and stressor, and accompanying personal sense making, concern, distress, and resolve.

Heartening research findings show that many Australians not only accept that climate change is happening, and feel that this is an issue of high personal importance, but are actively adapting to this ongoing threat and unfolding global disaster. It is important to not lose sight of these more psychological ‘human dimensions’ of climate change, as this is where ‘public engagement’, and adaptation and mitigation policies and initiatives, either work or fail in influencing crucial individual and collective lifestyle adjustments and changes.

Climate change is a quintessentially human as well as ecological issue and challenge in terms of causes and consequences, and the psychological and social environmental impacts on human communities of global climate change in terms of quality of life and environment, health and well-being - and the life support systems of all species - are likely to be profound, and with us for many generations if not millennia.

Issue engagement at an individual level brings the biosphere home, and makes this otherwise complex and distant and seemingly insurmountable phenomenon, personal, local, known, and a collective problem and responsibility about which much can and critically needs to be done.

The Australian Psychological Society offers some excellent advice and insights on coping with climate change”

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Prof Ralph Sims, Sustainable Energy, School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Massey University, lead author of IPCC AR5 WG3 report

"The argument that New Zealand produces only 0.14% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions no longer holds. On average, each New Zealander is responsible for emitting around eight tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and, with all the other greenhouse gases, now produces twice those of the average Chinese person and around eight times those of someone living in india. This means we are now the fourth highest emitters per person in the world, behind Australia, the United States, and Canada.

"New Zealand has set a modest target to reduce our total greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent below the 1990 gross emission level in just six years time, yet no one knows how we will achieve this. In our Sixth Communication document to the United Nations in December 2013, the Ministry of Environment projected our net greenhouse gas emissions (the total emitted minus the carbon dioxide absorbed by forests planted after 1990) will reach more than 75 million tonnes in 2020 if we continue with business as usual. To reach the five per cent reduction target below our 1990 emissions, we will need to somehow reduce these to 55 million tonnes.

"The various means of achieving this are clearly outlined in the IPCC Mitigation report released today. They relate to buildings, transport, industry, energy supplies, food production and processing, and forests, all of which can lead to the better "green economy" recently outlined in a New Zealand Royal Society report. Many of these solutions also provide major additional benefits such as less air pollution, better health, reduced traffic congestion, more employment and they actually save money.

"In the foreword of New Zealand's recent Communications document to the United Nations, Minister Groser stated, 'The emissions reduction opportunities available to other nations through conversion to renewables, mass public transport and energy efficiency in industry have already been done or have far less scope in New Zealand'. The IPCC Mitigation report clearly shows this is far from correct."

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Bob Lloyd, Associate Professor and Director of Energy Studies, Physics Department, University of Otago

"There is no way that mitigation can be effective unless we get buy-in by all countries of the world. The atmosphere does not care if the emissions come from New Zealand or India or any other specific nation.

"In particular the report states that mitigation will not be effective if all the individual nations of the world are intent on achieving their own selfish interests. In this regard it might be mentioned that in international climate change negotiations NZ is regarded as a particularly 'tough' negotiator. By 'tough' read 'selfish'. NZ has obtained concessions in terms of emissions reductions that many other countries would regard as not being a fair contribution to obtaining equitable global reductions.

"In this regard the NZ Government negotiators have been trying to advance the NZ economy for the people of NZ by avoiding the short term financial costs of agreeing to substantial reductions. From the developing country viewpoint there is a substantial ethical issue here; one of equity. The IPCC report in fact points out that achieving ethical equity in emissions reductions is paramount to mitigation targets. This issue has been one of the main reasons international climate negotiations have stalled.

"To get global buy-in NZ must act as a global leader in emissions reductions not a selfish backwater. In this regards NZ is better placed than nearly all countries in the world with a particularly high proportion of its electricity supply already coming from renewable sources including hydro, geothermal and wind.

"Instead of exploring for more hydrocarbons by permitting off shore oil and gas drilling, NZ should be extending its lead in renewables and assisting other countries to adopt the same.

"The urgency of attending to climate change mitigation cannot be overstated because unless we 'turn the curve', that is the rapidly increasing current world CO2 emissions curve, from business as usual, the IPCC report suggests we are on the way to a climate regime with temperature increases from between 3.7 and 4.8 degrees."

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Dr James Renwick, Assoc Prof, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington

"The latest WGIII report pulls no punches. Despite many international agreements and pledges, global greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating: they grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades. Emissions during 2000-2010 were nearly 70% higher than they were in the late 20th century. Half of all our greenhouse gas emissions (since 1750) have occurred in the last 40 years. The climate system is now running hard to catch up, as evidenced by increasing melt of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, increased rates of sea level rise, and dramatic loss of sea ice in the Arctic. Continued 'business as usual' will lead to 4 degrees or more of global warming, something well outside all of human experience.

"As the report demonstrates, we have the technologies to move away from 'business as usual', but we need a concerted international effort. Climate change action will help alleviate many other pressing problems, and does not have to be economically damaging. But the issue is clearly about more than economics. It is as much an ethical or moral issue, associated with international and inter-generational equity.

"The WGIII report charts many possible futures where we cap the warming at 2 degrees. Action, such as moving to 100% renewable electricity generation, needs to start immediately. New Zealand is as well-placed as any nation to lead the world on this, provided we have the political will. That appears to be lacking right now - there's plenty of talk about emissions reductions targets, while at the same time we're opening the country up to more oil drilling and coal mining. The latest MfE report shows New Zealand's emissions have gone up 25% since 1990, and they are on track to keep rising.

"Per head of population, we are some of the biggest emitters on the planet. Clean and green? 100% pure? Right now - I don't think so."

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Prof Susan Krumdieck, Dept of Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury

"The IPCC third working group report on climate change mitigation says what the consensus of scientific evidence has said before, and what the next and the next and the next will say. 

"The safe loading limit for extraction of of fossil carbon locked up in the earth's crust for over 100 million years, and converting it into CO2 gas has been exceeded and the climate has changed. These changes are measurable and consistent with modelling. 

"At the current fossil carbon conversion rate in less than 20 years, the catastrophic failure limit will have been exceeded. With the additional effects of other infrared absorbing gasses and permafrost melt, and land use change, the catastrophic failure limit could be reached in 10 years. 

"There aren't any responsible leaders, competent engineers, or sensible people who would suggest we should exceed safety limits. Who in the world would say that as a matter of convenience, we should push essential systems to collapse? 

"There is also no way to mitigate the impacts of a catastrophic failure. 

"The only option now is for all responsible, competent and sensible people to demand action from engineers, planners and business leaders to change every system that produces and uses climate affecting materials so dramatically reduce the production and use of fossil fuels and reduce the emissions of other greenhouse gasses."

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Dr Jim Salinger, climate scientist and former president of the Commission for Agricultural Meteorology at the World Meteorological Organisation

"The release of the IPCC Working Group 3 report shows that the world is currently on course for a world 3 to 4°C warmer by 2100, creating large impacts on all countries and economies. New Zealand's growth in greenhouse gases over the last decade parallels the global growth so we are very much laggards in emissions reductions policies. 

"The report notes that ambitious mitigation would reduce this growth by around 0.06 percentage points a year, far less than the impact of climate extremes such as drought on our economy. These underlying estimates do not take into account economic benefits of reduced climate change. Stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere requires emissions reductions from energy production and use, transport, buildings, industry, land use, and human settlements. Low hanging fruit for New Zealand is by using energy efficiency measures as well as incentives for homeowners to produce their own power from solar panels. It's up to us now."

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Prof Martin Manning, New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington

"The Working Group III Summary for Policymakers is showing very clearly that, while human behaviour has already changed our climate and damaged the environment that we depend on, there is now a rapidly growing challenge for that to shift towards a much clearer focus on behaving sustainably.

"More than three quarters of greenhouse gas emissions are of CO2 and this is predominantly due to our use of fossil fuels. While growth in these emissions was decreasing due to improvements in technology over 1971 - 2000, they increased significantly over 2001 - 2010. Some point at rapid development in China as the reason for that, but this new analysis shows the importance of looking at how we behave collectively, because it also involved significant changes in international trade as China became a globally dominant supplier. 

"However, collective response does not mean that all countries should do the same thing, or wait for others to act, because the report also makes it very clear that there is a wide range of capacities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across different countries as determined by their local circumstances. 

"New analyses covered in this report have shown that decreasing greenhouse gas emissions to keep to 2°C could reduce global economic growth by 0.06% per annum, whereas the report by Working Group II that came out last month suggests that the effects of not doing so could have more significant long term effects on water and food supply. 

"While governments have agreed that global warming should not exceed 2°C, analyses by 31 teams of experts have now shown that present commitments fall short of achieving that. In particular, unless a lot more is done by 2030 than currently planned, subsequent changes to keep to that target would have to reach drastic levels such as reducing CO2 emissions by 6% every year. So a very clear point coming from this report is that any further delay in response would raise some serious questions about whether the human race can behave sustainably."

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