The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is terrifying and reassuring at the same time.
Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, which was released on April 4, 2022, was compiled by 278 authors from 65 countries, and was approved by 195 countries. This report focuses on assessing methods for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
According to the report, unless global greenhouse gas emissions are cut in half by 2030, the world will be subject to extreme climate impacts, including fires, drought, storms and more. After GHG emissions fell in 2020 due to the pandemic, they have since risen to the highest levels in our history. Even so, that increase was slower from 2010 through 2019 than it was in the previous decade.
We have at our disposal the technology that we need to meet the goals of mitigating the climate crisis, and the technology necessary to reduce GHG emissions has gotten much less expensive in the past decade. Solar energy and lithium ion battery costs fell about 85% while wind decreased by 55% from 2010 through 2019. Research and development into new technologies are moving forward.
Worldwide, many countries have instituted policies that have increased energy efficiency and accelerated clean energy deployment. But other countries have made promises to mitigate climate change and not followed through or have pledged too little change to make the needed difference. The IPCC report states that mitigation of emissions to limit warming to 1.5˚C is feasible given the current state of technology. Politics, a resistance to change, and lack of funding are hampering those efforts.
The report also indicates that rapid cuts to methane emissions are critical to hitting the goal of 1.5˚C. Methane is not as abundant in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but it traps more atmospheric heat. Targeting leaks and inefficiencies will result in the most impact as they currently account for about 32% of methane released into the atmosphere.
Removing CO2 from the atmosphere needs to be part of the mitigation strategies as well since progress in reducing GHG emissions has been so slow. The methods currently available, however, have side effects that can impact biodiversity or create unintended ecosystem changes and need to be used with caution.
John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate says that although we are currently falling short of the goals, we have the tools we need to cut GHG emissions to reach net zero by 2050. And even if we miss the goal of keeping warming to 1.5˚C, every tenth of a degree that we can achieve reduces human suffering that results from global warming.
This dire, global crisis will affect everyone who calls planet Earth home. However, the report does provide a glimmer of hope. The goal is urgent, but it is still possible to achieve it. The greatest variable is people, and what we are willing to do to ensure the health of our planet.