‘There’s no silver bullet’ to get us to or beyond net-zero: Green economy reacts to new IPCC report
Prominent figures from NGOs, businesses and academia have welcomed the publication of a major new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), urging world leaders to heed its calls for “rapid and deep” emissions cuts in the near-term.
Published today (4 April) after delays of several hours, the IPCC Working Group III’s ‘Mitigation of Climate Change’ report explains developments to date in reducing and sequestering emissions, and outlines a pathway to deliver the future levels of emissions abatement needed to avoid the worst of the climate crisis.
Coming in at almost 3,000 pages, the report emphasises the fact that, unless net global emissions peak by 2025, the chances of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5C or even 2C will reduce significantly. In a 1.5C scenario, net global emissions will be 48% lower in 2030 than in 2019. In a 2C scenario, the reduction within the same time period is one-quarter.
Detailed in the report are a string of solutions that must be rapidly scaled in tandem to achieve this level of emissions reductions. As well as dramatically scaling back existing fossil fuel infrastructure and reducing the pipeline for future projects, the report calls for increased investment in clean energy; energy storage; low-carbon transport; low-carbon buildings; nature creation and restoration; man-made carbon capture technologies; sustainable agriculture and technologies to decarbonise heavy industrial sectors.
It notes that the levels of emissions reductions needed will require behaviour change at scale. In some developed nations like the UK, decarbonisation, to date, has happened on the demand side in energy systems. Now, we will need to change the way we plan and develop towns, cities and buildings; use more public and active transport and eat more plant-based foods, among other things.
While noting that investment in the low-carbon transition will need to increase at least threefold and as much as sixfold this decade, the conclusion is that the price of mitigation will not outweigh the costs of inaction.
With so much information packed into this report, leading figures and organisations from across the global green economy have been keen to react, imploring world leaders to heed the science. Here, edie rounds up all the latest reaction.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres: “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing production of fossil fuels… investing in new fossil fuels is moral and economic madness.
“This latest report is a litany of broken climate promises. Some governments and business leaders are saying on thing, but doing another. They are lying. It is time to stop burning our planet.”
COP26 President Alok Sharma: “This report makes clear that the window to keep 1.5C alive is closing alarmingly fast. The warning lights are yet again flashing bright red on the climate dashboard and it is high time for governments to sit up and act before it is too late.
“That is why it is absolutely vital that as agreed in the Glasgow Climate Pact all countries, especially the G20 nations which are responsible for 80% of global emissions, revisit and strengthen their 2030 emission reduction targets this year as necessary to align with the Paris temperature goal if we are to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
“But this report also gives hope that the rate of growth in emissions is slowing and that thanks to the falling cost of renewables and technological innovation it is possible to transition to a cleaner future. We know that a net-zero economy presents huge opportunities for growth and the creation of good green jobs and so countries and companies need to accelerate that transition.”
IEMA’s chief executive Sarah Mukherjee: “The fact that this IPCC report was signed-off by its 195 member governments, and is still so critical of government and corporate action on climate change, means there can be no more excuses for inadequate policy, and no more hiding the truth behind empty pledges.
“Civil society and industry must be mobilised now, which requires the strongest of leadership on climate action at all levels and in all sectors. In practice, this means rapid action is taken to phase out global coal use, and it’s imperative that there is an immediate increase in investment in the green jobs and skills required for a successful transition to a sustainable global society.”
The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) international lead Gareth Redmond-King: “Last year’s IPCC report sounded the alarm, and the impacts report earlier this year was frankly terrifying. This third report, though, sets out the solutions. It sets out, in some detail, how we respond to the alarm and avoid the apocalyptic future we know we’re heading for if we don’t act.
“It is clear that the solutions are cheaper than the impacts – that acting to tackle the climate crisis is cheaper than not acting. It is now down to political leaders – particularly G20 leaders, as the largest economies and biggest emitters – to choose how bad we let things get. We have the evidence, the tools, and the public support that those leaders need to choose a safer, healthier, more prosperous future.”
WWF Scotland’s climate and energy policy manager Fabrice Leveque: “This report shows that climate change is moving faster than we are. We cannot hold on any longer to the polluting fossil fuels that are wrecking our climate and destroying the natural world on which we all depend. Political leaders, at home and abroad, must deliver on their climate promises and accelerate efforts this decade to limit global warming to 1.5C. Unless we all dramatically scale up climate solutions and embark on a just transition, we will miss this crucial target soon.”
A spokesperson for the Coalition for Negative Emissions: “Today’s findings from the IPCC Working Group III Report reaffirm that negative emissions will play an indispensable role in delivering net-zero. Greenhouse gas removals are essential alongside the vast reduction in overall emissions needed to stop the worst impacts of climate change.
“To ensure global temperature rise remains safely within 1.5C, we must accelerate the development of the negative emissions market and promote large-scale investment in the industry. This will lead to a dramatic decrease in costs and create a pathway for hard-to-abate sectors to decarbonise.
“Negative emissions technologies that produce permanent, high-quality carbon removals can achieve multiple objectives – they can stabilise global CO2 levels, address historic emissions, and ultimately help us to realise our global climate ambitions.”
Nature4Climate’s director and chair Lucy Almond: “Nature is one of the best and most valuable carbon mitigation solutions that we have to limit rising emissions and meet climate targets. With adequate funding, nature can provide up to one-third of cost-effective carbon mitigation, as well as protecting and restoring the vital natural ecosystems that sustain life on earth. This alarming IPCC report must be a wake-up call for world leaders to invest in nature now and unlock its mitigation potential for the benefit of people and the planet.”
PwC’s global climate leader Emma Cox: “This report highlights in stark terms the scale of mitigation required, and the pace at which we must move, to avert the worst scenarios of climate change.
“Major economies of the G20 need to commit to and deliver on the Glasgow Climate Pact, which includes bringing 2030 targets in line with the Paris Agreement goals. Such targets provide focus but targets alone cannot avert disaster – only action can do that and delays now mean greater annual cuts in future years.
“Climate policy and finance will be critical for driving transformative change. And this is only possible if governments enable finance to flow into the areas where mitigation can be most effective: electrification, the phasing out of fossil fuels, smarter urban planning; and helping consumers and businesses better manage their energy consumption and carbon emissions.”
WWF’s chief climate change advisor and global IPCC lead Dr Stephen Cornelius: “This report shows that while some sectors are heading in the right direction, climate change is moving faster than we are. We cannot hold on any longer to the polluting fossil fuels that are wrecking our climate and destroying the natural world on which we all depend.
“We will miss the crucial goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C unless we dramatically scale up climate solutions to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions. This means investing at scale in powering our societies more efficiently, using clean renewable energy, conserving and restoring nature, moving away from unsustainable business practices and leaving no one behind in this transition. Every moment, every policy, every investment, every decision matters to avoid further climate chaos.”
The APPG for Renewable and Sustainable Energy’s chair Bim Afolami MP: “The IPCC couldn’t be clearer: we are running out of time, impacts are worse than expected, and we need to accelerate collective action on climate. But at a time of multiple global crises, this latest report offers potential solutions to avert the worst climate impacts.
“The answer is net-zero. The UK has led the way and, with the UK’s COP presidency driving global action, we are continuing to lead from the front. Although cutting emissions requires greater investment, it will be far more economically and socially painful if climate change continues to wreak havoc. We cannot afford to ignore this, and Global Britain should continue to lead the way with economically viable innovations in renewable energy generation and storage, reducing waste, decarbonising industry and, above all, ensuring that we protect our natural environment.”
Rachel Kyte, Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University: “We are at a moment of increasing tension around the world, with every excuse possible for distraction and delay. We are at a point where the developed economies have kicked the can down the road for a long time – we have begun to act, begun to show we can delink growth and prosperity from the amount of carbon in the economy, and the public is persuaded that this is the way forward.
“We now have to put our arms around a new form of energy security – one that embraces everyone; a new kind of politics. This puts extraordinary pressure on the leaders of the G7 and the G20 because at the moment, that conversation is not taking place with a level of seriousness that this moment calls for. And so we are at a moment of reckoning and the IPCC report just puts an exclamation point at the end of that.”
UCL’s Professor of Energy and Climate Change Michael Grubb: “Over the last decade, there’s been a considerable broadening of our understanding that this issue is a lot bigger, broader, and more sophisticated. And, in some ways, even more hopeful, in the sense that we have these changes in the technologies, and we have examples of countries that have sustained emissions reductions. But we have seen that a lot of things that analysts think make sense and could be good economics still haven’t happened because of policy and politics.
“There’s that Churchillian phrase – never waste a crisis … We’re in a situation where new zero-carbon electricity costs between half and one-third of what we’re now paying for electricity. If that’s not an opportunity economically and politically, then I don’t know what is. … To solve long-term problems, you’ve sometimes got to look a long way back. We’ve now had five decades of repeated fossil fuel crises since the 1970s. We should ensure this is the last one.”
The Conservative Environment Network’s (CEN) director Sam Hall: “The case for reducing fossil fuel consumption across the economy has only got stronger. Fossil fuels are now much more expensive than they were; getting off them therefore helps with the cost of living. There’s now also the additional national security imperative, to eliminate Russian fossil fuel imports. Political drivers for the Government remain the same in terms of delivering on its COP presidency commitments, and net-zero was a prominent commitment in the 2019 manifesto; two years out from an election, the government will want to be seen to have delivered on that. Opinion polls continue to show strong support for net-zero with clear majorities across all demographics.
“Overall, it’s clear that different goals – energy security, the cost of living, and net-zero – all pull in the same direction. There is no need to trade off the short term against climate action and climate targets. The answer remains the same in all cases: clean energy deployment, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and improving energy efficiency.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas: “This report confirms that the devastating future towards which we are hurtling can still be avoided if Governments make the right choices right now… It’s time to pick a side – the fossil fuel polluters and those who bankroll them, or the future of humanity. We already have the solutions we need, and we know that action is far cheaper than delay.
“Yet our reckless Government, which talks up new North Sea oil and gas drilling, while rumours abound over reviewing the moratorium on fracking, is fiddling while the world burns. It’s failing in its first duty – to keep its citizens safe. If Global Britain is to mean anything, then Ministers must rise to the challenge of the COP Presidency and demonstrate real leadership now.
“Locking us into new oil and gas for decades means we’ll have to rely on expensive, unproven and as yet unscalable carbon dioxide removal technologies. While some extraction for past emissions will be unavoidable, the impact of the giant hosepipe of carbon emissions currently gushing into the atmosphere won’t be stopped by sucking it back out with a paper straw. This ‘burn now, pay later’ approach simply gives fossil fuel companies licence to willfully continue with business as usual when this emergency demands the opposite.
“There’s no silver bullet to tackling the climate emergency. But we do have an array of effective, realistic and genuine solutions at our fingertips – from rapidly winding down fossil fuels, to reversing the depletion of our natural world’s carbon sinks, and developing long-lasting energy efficiency for our leaky homes. The only thing we lack is the political will to deliver them.”
Cambridge Zero’s director professor Emily Shuckburgh: “This is a preventable global crisis. Not only do we know how to cut emissions and adapt, but we already have almost all the tools we need to avert the worst impacts. Yet we are a long way from being on track: global pledges do not yet add up to the cuts needed and too many big emitters are not making enough progress on delivering them.
“With less than eight months until COP27 in Egypt, the UK presidency focus must be on ensuring big emitters deliver on climate plans while themselves demonstrating global leadership.”
Ashden’s chief executive officer Harriet Lamb: “This is yet another deeply serious IPCC report underlining in red ink that the world must turn its back on fossil fuels as a matter of urgency, once and for all. So let’s just throw ourselves at scaling up renewables fast while investing in measures that reduce energy consumption and so save people’s hard-pressed bills. We have the solutions – organisations like Kensa Heat Pumps, Carbon Co-op, Highview Power and Passivhaus Homes have been implementing low carbon technology for years and just need supporting and replicating. There’s no time to wait.”
Boston Consulting Group’s associate director and partner Jens Burchard: “This report reminds us of the depressing reality that net-zero will likely not be sufficient. Humanity has let so much fossil CO2 accumulate in the atmosphere that we will have to reach negative emissions in the second half of the century to prevent the worst effects of climate change and keep the planet hospitable for future generations.
“Beyond this, the message of the report is quite two-sided: There is massive, multi-gigaton potential in nature-based and technological carbon removal levers and we should introduce mechanisms to scale these levers as soon as possible. But humanity still emits around 50 Gt CO2e each year—and few of these levers are as scalable and as economic as many mitigation options are today. There is no magic ‘CO2 hoover’ on the horizon that will save us. There is no alternative to bringing down emissions and phasing out the use of fossil fuels—fast.”
The University of Exeter Business School’s Professor of Sustainability, Gail Whiteman: “While new technologies to undo the damage humans have inflicted on the planet are well-intentioned, we are taking huge risks with our shared future if we allow our focus to shift from emissions reductions, allowing businesses, government and investors to take a business-as-usual approach.
“We are already seeing energy firms relying unrealistically on negative emissions technologies and huge offsets requiring a new forest the size of Brazil. Some of these technologies may prove useful, but to bet the house on them would be a costly mistake.”
The Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho: “This report is a reminder that despite the ongoing geopolitical crisis, the risks relating to climate change have not gone away and require an urgent response, including a rapid reduction in fossil fuel use.
“In response to today’s report, the UK Government should press ahead with its Net Zero Strategy and should use its Energy Security Strategy expected later this week to significantly scale up renewable energy, support more electrification across key sectors and drive energy efficiency across the economy. Reducing reliance on volatile and expensive fossil fuels and accelerating the net-zero transition not only makes sense to lower emissions, it also presents an opportunity to boost energy security, drive down energy bills and level up the economy.
“It is positive to see the report highlight the importance of action in this decade to mitigate the built environment’s carbon emissions. The UK must increase its ambition in this area and take action to drive investment in energy efficiency, and deliver the skills programmes required to make the most of this opportunity in line with the recommendations of the Green Jobs Taskforce. The decarbonisation of heavy industry also features as a priority in the IPCC report. The UK is off to a good start on industrial decarbonisation but must push ahead with policies that make low carbon fuels more widely available to heavy industries, whilst also growing the demand for low carbon industrial products through initiatives such as product standards and a carbon border adjustment mechanism.”
CISL’s director of policy Eliot Whittington: “This report should be read as a how-to guide for any decision-maker interested in navigating towards security, success and a sustainable environment over the next few decades. It spells out from the first line that a prosperous future economy can and must go hand in hand with the effort to decarbonise. It makes it clear we have no time to spare, and need to urgently transform words into actions. The next decade will be decisive.
“It also is clear on the toolkit for action – we must see renewable energy, efficiency, electrification and nature restoration take off at transformative scales. We must see fossil fuels quickly phased out from the economy. We will also need to explore and develop new carbon dioxide removal approaches which will be risky but essential to achieve the goals of climate stability.”
CISL’s research director for sustainable finance, Dr Nina Seega: “Between 2015 and 2018, 23 countries have managed to decouple consumption-based CO2 emissions from economic growth. At the same time, energy emissions intensity is much higher in developing countries compared to North America, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
“Redirection of fossil fuel subsidies, financial climate risk disclosure and carbon pricing are minimum but not sufficient requirements to drive finance towards decarbonisation. Better use of blended finance, Covid-19 recovery funding, availability of country risk hedging and guarantees are needed to facilitate technology transfer and climate mitigation finance towards developing countries.
“The report demonstrates the success in the deployment of many renewable technologies as well as details many opportunities in industrial and energy decarbonisation space. If addressed in concert, nature positive projects within agriculture and sustainable forestry can also provide a cost-effective route to climate mitigation. In this context, finance is a key lever towards a net-zero and a nature-positive economy.”
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