The IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report: Unpacking the Current State of GHG Emissions and the Urgency of Addressing Climate Change

Science

Inhaltsverzeichnis

12
min |
3.5.2023
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Introduction

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which offers a comprehensive view of climate change, including the latest trends and status of the Earth's climate system. With the work of 782 scientists, the report is the most reliable source of information on climate change to date. In this blog post, we will explore the key findings of the IPCC AR6, including the current state of greenhouse gas emissions, the startling impact of GHG emissions on climate change, the urgency of addressing climate change, and the tangible impacts and global consequences.

From Progress to Injustice: The State of GHG Emissions

The state of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is complex. Anthropogenic GHG emissions reached 59±6.6 GtCO2-eq worldwide in 2019. Although the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented drop in CO2 emissions during the lockdowns in 2020, this trend was short-lived. Global CO2 emissions increased by 0.4% from 2019 to 2023 (January and February), primarily due to a 6.1% surge in industrial emissions. Despite improvements in energy and carbon intensity, emissions from increased activity have outpaced CO2 reductions from fossil fuels and industrial processes.

Let’s take a closer look on Europe. While CO2 emissions in the EU 27 + UK region decreased by 6.5% from 2019 to 2023, industrial emissions rose by 6.3% during the same period. Europe still has a long way to go to achieve global equity in emissions reduction. European citizens with 7.8 tCO2-eq emissions per capita have per capita emissions three times higher than Southern Asia, showing that they bear significant responsibility for GHG emissions. This is underlined by the climate injustice among households. The top 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute a staggering 34-45% of global consumption-based household GHG emissions. In contrast, the bottom 50% accounts for only 13-15%. If we follow the consumption patterns of the lowest 50%, consumption-based household GHG emissions would decrease by 28%.

Thankfully, recent data suggests that the shift towards sustainability is gaining momentum. Carbon emissions from domestic flights and residential sectors have significantly decreased. Between the first two months of 2019 and the same period in 2023, global CO2 emissions from domestic flights have decreased by 3.5%, with a whopping 48.5% reduction in Germany. CO2 emissions from international flights have also dropped by 15.6%. Residential emissions have decreased by 7.0% during the same timeframe. This reduction is a promising indication that society is increasingly conscious of climate change concerns and actively taking measures to minimize their carbon footprint. However, it is essential to continue raising awareness about the impact of individual actions on the environment to ensure we make meaningful progress in reducing GHG emissions.

Uncovering the Startling Impact of GHG Emissions on Climate Change

The escalating emission of greenhouse gases has a catastrophic effect on the Earth's atmosphere. To comprehend the enormity of this problem, the IPCC has brought to light two staggering facts:

  1. 800,000 years high: The concentration of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) has reached levels not seen in at least 800,000 years.
  2. 2,000,000 years high: Current carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations exceed levels experienced in at least the past two million years.

These statistics clearly indicate that human actions are having a tremendous impact on the atmosphere, emphasizing the urgency to reduce GHG emissions to prevent further harm to the planet. The increasing concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere inevitably leads to a rise in global temperature. According to the IPCC, the anthropogenic increase in global surface temperature is about 1.07°C between 1850–1900 and 2010–2019. Remarkably, while GHGs accounted for a warming of 1.0°C–2.0°C, other human-driven factors, particularly aerosols, offset a portion of this effect by causing a cooling of 0.0°C–0.8°C. This illustrates the intricate relationship between different factors contributing to climate change and highlights the pressing need to address and mitigate GHG emissions.

The Urgency of Addressing Climate Change: Tangible Impacts and Global Consequences

Despite the tangible impacts, some still view climate change as an abstract concept. However, the direct effects of global warming are evident, even in Europe. The World Weather Attribution (WWA) reveals that anthropogenic climate change has increased the likelihood of extreme rainfall events, such as the devastating Ahr river flood, by factors ranging from 1.2 to 9. 

In many regions the situation is even more severe than in Europe. The IPCC warns of the significant inverse correlation between per-capita emissions and population vulnerability. With around 3.3 to 3.6 billion people living in highly susceptible conditions, the consequences of climate change are becoming all too real. Human mortality rates resulting from floods, droughts, and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions between 2010 and 2020 compared to those with very low vulnerability. We must recognize and address these impacts to protect vulnerable populations and mitigate the consequences of global warming on our planet.

A brief remark about glaciers:
Glaciers are a critical player in climate change, with their rapidly declining mass having significant implications for global water resources, biodiversity, and sea-level rise. Research shows that human activity is the primary cause of the global glacier retreat since the 1990s, with consequences that will be felt for generations to come. The IPCC confirms that the current rate of glacier retreat is unparalleled in more than 2000 years, underscoring the urgent need to take action to mitigate the broader implications of climate change. 

Bridging the Emissions Gap: The Urgent Need for Strengthened Climate Policies

As the consequences of climate change become increasingly evident, it's crucial to examine the actions being taken by policymakers. While some countries have introduced laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there's still a significant gap in policy. In fact, as of 2020, 47% of global emissions were not governed by mitigation policies, indicating an urgent need for policy reinforcement.

The implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) is a significant factor in reducing emissions, but the gap between projected policies and actual implementation leaves much room for improvement. Without policy reinforcement, emissions will increase further, causing a median global warming of 2.2°C–3.5°C by 2100.

Despite these challenges, there is hope for progress. Recent policy improvements, such as the European Union's 2030 Climate Target Plan or the United States' new greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, offer a promising path forward. These advancements demonstrate that progress can be made when policymakers take decisive action to reduce emissions and combat climate change.

To secure a sustainable future, we must close the emissions gap and strengthen climate policies. By doing so, we can reduce the risks and impacts of climate change, protect our planet, and ensure a better future for generations to come.

Shifting the Money: Investing in Climate-Resilient Solutions for the Future

When it comes to building a climate-friendly future, money talks. Unfortunately, it seems that the financial industry still has its priorities skewed. Despite urgent calls for action, public and private finance for fossil fuels continue to overshadow investments in climate adaptation and mitigation. Shockingly, the World Bank reports that 16 of the world's largest banks have poured a staggering $1.6 trillion into fossil fuels since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, compared to only $307 billion in renewable energy. The Global Commission on Adaptation warns that we're also falling woefully short on adaptation, with only $30 billion being invested each year, while the actual cost could be anywhere between $140 billion to $300 billion per year by 2030. To make matters worse, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reveals that global subsidies for fossil fuels in 2020 reached a staggering $5.9 trillion, dwarfing investments in renewable energy at only $620 billion. Clearly, it's time to start redirecting our financial resources towards climate-resilient solutions, and fast. According to the IPCC, achieving the 1.5°C or 2°C target will require an average annual investment increase of three to six times the current levels between 2020 and 2030. We need to significantly increase total mitigation investments across all sectors and regions to build a truly sustainable future.

The Way Forward: The Role of Technological Advancements

Data from the IPCC AR6 shows: The world is on the cusp of a sustainable revolution, powered by groundbreaking technological advancements in renewable energy. The last decade has witnessed a remarkable transformation in the renewable energy landscape, with solar energy, wind energy, and lithium-ion batteries leading the way. Thanks to cost reductions of up to 85%, these clean energy sources have become increasingly accessible, leading to widespread adoption. Solar energy installations have surged over tenfold, and electric vehicle (EV) adoption has skyrocketed over 100 times. In fact, renewable energy has become more affordable than fossil fuel-based power in many regions. In certain areas, the unit costs of photovoltaic (PV) panels and wind turbines are now cheaper than traditional power sources. With large-scale battery storage on electricity grids becoming increasingly viable, even electric vehicles are becoming more competitive with their traditional counterparts. This exponential growth in the adoption of PV, wind, and passenger EVs between 2000 and 2020 is just the beginning of a renewable energy revolution that is poised to shape a sustainable future.

A Call to Action for Businesses

The climate crisis is no longer a distant problem that businesses can afford to ignore. With the release of the IPCC AR6, the urgency of the situation has become more apparent than ever. Climate risks are on the rise, and in order to avert the worst impacts of global warming, we must dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The writing is on the wall: businesses can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines. Failing to take action could result in non-compliance with more stringent regulations and damage to reputation. Moreover, as consumers increasingly prioritize sustainability, businesses that fail to address their climate impact risk falling behind their competitors. The shift towards sustainability is a trend that is here to stay, and businesses that recognize this fact will be better positioned to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

The time for action is now. Partner with Five Glaciers Consulting to help your organization navigate the complexities of climate change and take meaningful steps towards a sustainable future. Reach out to us today.

Sources: 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2021). Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/synthesis-report/

Liu, Z. et al. (2021). Global CO2 emissions rebound close to pre-COVID levels in late 2020. Nature Climate Change, 11(3), 197-199.

Zemp, M. et al. (2019). Global glacier mass changes and their contributions to sea-level rise from 1961 to 2016. Nature, 568(7752), 382-386.

Carbon Monitor. (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2023, from https://carbonmonitor.org/

Global Carbon Project. Global Carbon Budget 2021. https://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/21/index.htm

European Environment Agency. Trends and projections in Europe 2021: tracking progress towards Europe’s climate and energy targets. https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/trends-and-projections-in-europe-2021

International Energy Agency. Energy and Climate Change. 2021. https://www.iea.org/topics/energy-and-climate-change

World Weather Attribution. Rapid attribution analysis of the August 2021 flooding in Western Europe. 2021. https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/attribution-of-the-heavy-rainfall-over-western-europe-in-july-2021/

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. State of the Climate: Global Climate Report for Annual 2020. https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/global-climate-report/annual/2020/

Climate Action Tracker. Global Update: Climate Action Accelerates, But Huge Gaps Remain. 2021. https://climateactiontracker.org/global/2021-11-04-global-update-climate-action-accelerates-but-huge-gaps-remain/

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