The new IPCC report is the new warning to the world

This sixth assessment report has updated the concept of the greenhouse gas budget. The report states that if the world wants a fifty percent chance of staying withing the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius in global warming, then the CO2 budget from 2020 onwards is only 500 billion tons. With the current rate of the global net anthropogenic GHG emissions (59±6.6 GtCO2-eq in 2019), the budget will be exhausted already in 2027. The estimate of the remaining carbon budget from 2020 onwards for limiting warming to to 2°C with a probability of 67% has been assessed as 1150 Gt CO2. With the current rate of GHG emissions, the threshold corresponding to 2°C will be exceeded in 2038. No country is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2027. This suggests that the time to reach the indicator of 1.5 degrees is almost lost.

According to the Strategy for Low-Carbon Development of Russia until 2050, by 2060 the Russian Federation will become a carbon-neutral country. The Russian Social Ecological Union believes that the energy sector of the country and of the world should become completely carbon-free by the middle of this century.

In fact, the report acknowledges that the usual 1.5 oC pathways are almost no longer realistic. All simulated global pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C (>50%) with no or limited overshoot, and those that limit warming to 2°C (>67%) involve rapid and deep and in most cases immediate GHG emission reductions in all sectors, which are not provided by current NDCs (nationally determined contributions). Therefore the report introduces the concept of overshoot. That means that the temperature might rise above 1.5 oC in the middle of this century, but will go down by 2010 due to CCS (CO2 capture and storage) technologies. These include, in particular, BECCS, which is CCS used at biomass-fired power plants, and Direct Air Capture (DAC). Unfortunately, these and similar technologies are not only speculative but also often harmful to humans and the environment. The report admits that such technologies may have socio-economic and environmental problems such as food and water supply, local businesses and indigenous peoples' rights, and biodiversity. However, it does not assess how large areas of land may be threatened if the industrialized world, instead of taking responsibility for itself, chooses to invest in BECCS, where the biomass will be produced on a large scale in e.g. poor countries. Other reports have suggested that it may amount to areas the size of India or even of Australia.

Reliance of CCS technologies can mislead politicians, business, and all of us into believing that we can exceed the temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees (which in itself will mean a major climate change) and later extract CO2 from the atmosphere without significant problems. However, previous IPCC reports have made it very clear that temperature overshoot will lead to a cascade of problems affecting both the environment and humans. As usual, it will particularly affect the least responsible but most vulnerable populations.

The report has many testimonies about the skewed distributions of goods and responsibilities. For example, one billion people in the 'least developed countries' have contributed less than 0.4 percent of the historical GHG emissions from 1850-2019. This raises the issue of climate justice: Who should bear the brunt of the fight against the climate crisis? Is it the poor who contributed very little to the problem, nor enjoyed much of the benefits of cheap fuels, or is it e. g. the richest 10 percent who account for over 50 percent of current GHG emissions and are responsible for the biggest part of historical emissions?

As something new, this new report contains a much needed chapter on demand side approach. This is not least exemplified by the potential in the building stock, where both new construction and retrofitting of existing buildings can provide very large reductions. But more is needed than energy efficiency, reducing the demand for energy and materials, etc. Behavioral changes in the form of real savings in addition to this are needed, as a means of reaching a more sustainable world – both environmentally and socially. In relation to the climate crisis, it must have the highest priority in the next 10-20 years. With the small CO2 budget available, technologies alone cannot do the job. To illustrate this point: If the richest 10 percent were to come to terms with a standard of living like the European average, a third of global CO2 emissions would be eliminated overnight.

It is unfortunate that the GHG emission scenarios in this IPCC report are based on the assumption that the economy will develop in the same way as it does now – focusing on endless growth. Although, in fact, the lack of success even in the commitments of countries to reduce GHG emissions suggests that it is necessary to consider alternative models of sustainable development, including the world economy. The IPCC does not provide such alternative models, considering only the growing market economy model when simulating climate change scenarios.

According to Olga Senova, Head of the RSEU Climate Programme, “For Russia, which ranks 5th in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the low-carbon pathway is the most important condition for economic development and sustainable development of the country as a whole. We have vast untapped resources in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and opportunities for climate solutions at the grass-root level – in buildings, in households, in people's lifestyles. To considerably reduce emissions, to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, it is necessary to integrate the climate agenda into all spheres of life.”


Alexander Fedorov

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