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OPINION: IPCC’s latest report warns of accelerated emissions – and suggests reduction pathways

Dr. Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry, an eminent climate scientist and climate advisor to LEAD Pakistan, summarises the messages of the IPCC’s latest report on climate mitigation, and draws out its implications for Pakistan.

The latest report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group-III, Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, shows that global greenhouse gases emissions have gone up to unprecedented levels despite global reduction efforts. It also highlighted that greenhouse emissions grew more quickly between 2000-2010 than in each of the three previous decades.

The IPCC is the most authoritative intergovernmental scientific body on climate change under the auspices of the United Nations (UN). It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced, and forms a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential impacts. It has three Working Groups, report of Working Group I & II were released few months earlier and the latest report, entitled Climate Change 2014: Mitigation Of Climate Change, is the third report, which along with a Synthesis Report due in October, 2014, constitute the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change.

This latest report of Working Group- III highlights that we need to aim for substantial emission reduction if we want to be in line with 2-degrees Celsius UNFCCC warming limit. Report further stated that it is doable. The Climate Change scenarios used in this report are based on the analyses of 1200 scenarios generated by 31 modeling groups around the world. This analyses indicate that for achieving 2-degrees Celsius goal means lowering global GHG emissions by 40 to 70 percent compared with 2010 level by mid-century and to near-zero by the end of this century. The estimated global greenhouse gas emission levels in 2020 based on Cancun Pledges of emission reduction are not sufficient to limit temperature change to 2 C. The report also mentioned the co-benefits of reduced air-pollutants and improved air-quality on human health.

The report cautioned that effective mitigation will not be achieved if parties continue to advance their own agendas independently. As the Climate Change requires a collective efforts at the global scale, because most greenhouse gases accumulate over time and mix globally, and emissions by anyone affect others. Therefore, international cooperation is a must to effectively mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to address other climate challenges.

The report also admitted that climate policy has a consideration of diverse array of risk and uncertainties, some of which are difficult to measure, notably events that are of low probability but which may have significant impact if they occur.

Energy. The report states that around 47% of direct CO2 emissions in the atmosphere are coming from energy generation and these are projected to almost double or even triple by 2050 compared to the year 2010, unless drastic energy intensity improvements are taken up.  As such, decarbonising electricity generation is the key pillar in required mitigation efforts.

Infrastructure. The report also reinforces the importance of ambitious mitigation actions as infrastructure development can lock societies into greenhouse gas-intensive emission pathway that may be difficult or very costly to change.

Buildings. According to the report  in 2010, building sector accounted for 32% of energy use and this energy demand is projected to increase by 50-150 % in 2050. This increase in energy demand resulted from prosperity, lifestyle change, access to modern energy services and urbanization. But recent advances in technologies, know-how and policies provide an opportunity to stabilize or even to reduce global building sector energy use by 2050.

Urbanisation. Urbanisation is a global trend, which is linked to general prosperity and higher consumption of energy use and greenhouse emissions. In 2006, urban areas accounted for 70-76% of energy related CO2 emissions. By 2050, 64-69% of the world population is projected to be living in urban areas. As such, according to the report, next two decades provide an window of opportunity for mitigation actions in urban areas, as large  portion of world urban areas will be developed during this period. Urban land use, transport choice, housing and infrastructure are strongly linked. Any effective  mitigation strategies needs to involve packages of mutually reinforcing policies, including co‐locating high residential with high employment densities, achieving high diversity, investing in public transport and other demand management measures.

Industries. In 2010, the industry sector accounted for 30% of global emissions. Energy use by the industrial sector could be reduced by about 25% compared to the current level, through upgrading, replacement and deployment of best available technologies, particularly in countries where these are not in use.

Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use ( AFOLU). According to the report, the AFOLU sector accounts for about 25% of net greenhouse emissions mainly from soil and nutrient management and livestock. In forestry, the most cost-effective mitigation options are afforestation and reducing deforestation. In agriculture, the mitigation opportunities are cropland and grazing land management, and restoration of organic soils. First time in this IPCC report agriculture and forestry mitigation has been merged into one chapter, that in fact indicates the recognition for a landscape approach  in addressing climate mitigation options in AFOLU.

Economic growth. One of the significant finding of the report is the decoupling climate change mitigation  from the growth of economies. It has dispelled the previous notion and state that moving to low carbon or zero carbon economy to combat climate change will cost the world a meager 0.06% reduction in annual consumption growth.

Climate finance. The report estimated the financial flows associated with climate change mitigation and adaptation in the range of USD 343 to 385 billion per year globally, and most of it goes to mitigation. Out of this total public climate finance that flowed to developing countries is estimated to be USD 35-49 billion per year in 2011 and 2012.

Takeaway messages for Pakistan

Pakistan has number of takeaway messages from this report.

In view of Pakistan’s high vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change, in particular extreme events, and low GHG emissions compared to international standard, justifiably country’s focus is on adaptation efforts. However, in spite of our very low GHG emissions contribution, our role as a responsible member of the global community in combating climate change needs to be fully taken into consideration while responding to climate change mitigation issues.

Energy sector in Pakistan is contributing around 51%  of our total emissions followed by agriculture sector 39% (Source- National GHG Inventory, 2008). Pakistan cannot afford to ignore mitigation efforts – at least, in these sectors.

In regard to energy generation, the report has rightly highlighted the importance of moving away from coal-based power generation. Although at present the report has not suggested particular implications for countries that  are now  moving or planning to  move towards greater  coal use. But surely the indications are that the time may not be far when the countries not following green energy path would be penalised, as with a carbon tax on exports etc.

Pakistan needs to be cautious when considering any lock-in in coal power generation technology for    next 25-30 years. The present government has put an emphasis on hydropower and renewable options, and we need a mix of power sources with increased reliance on hydro/renewable and less on fossil fuel particularly on coal.

Similarly, Pakistan is an agricultural country and  among major rice exporters in the world. We need  to see that greenhouse emissions reductions and mitigation options in agriculture and forestry are followed and implemented, particularly improved management practices in rice cultivation to reduce methane gas. Methane has a much more damaging ‘greenhouse effect’ in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The potential of forests to act as carbon sinks is well recognised  internationally and according to the IPCC, activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) are cost- effective policy options for mitigating climate change, with potential economic, social and other environmental and adaptation co‐benefits. Pakistan should take full benefit of internationally available REDD+ financing for reforestation and reducing deforestation activities.

It’s true that the IPCC report has made a strong case for early  and deep cuts in greenhouse emissions and spelled out different possible pathways, but has largely  failed to clearly indicate who will do all this and who will pay for it. As befits this scientific panel, they have left this deeply political task for the politicians.

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