The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has delivered its latest three reports, covering climate science, the impacts of climate change, and the actions necessary to minimize the damage. The message from the reports was that there is an increasingly urgent need to take a range of climate actions if we are to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. The next question is whether or not the world will take the decisive action that is needed.


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“The onus comes back to those who are privileged to walk where we can, to change our diets, to be more sustainable and leave a lower carbon footprint. There will be some incentives required to bring about those behavioural changes, and this IPCC report shows that there are policy options available to make that happen.”

Preety Bhandari, Senior Advisor, Global Climate Program and the Finance Center, WRI


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“Transformations across all major systems are now required to hold global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. That includes scaling up renewable energy, doubling down on innovation to decarbonize industry, incentivizing green buildings, redesigning cities and shifting towards low carbon transport, as well as protecting, restoring and sustainably managing ecosystems and producing more food with fewer emissions.”

Sophie Boehm, Research Associate, Systems Change Lab, WRI


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Transcript of main interview:

Sophie Boehm 1:38

We are in the sixth assessment report cycle for the IPCC. And so far, we have received three reports from working group one working group two and working group three. The first report from working group one focuses on the physical science of climate change and looks at the evidence of global warming that's already underway. And this report found that things like sea level rise is faster than in any prior century for 3000 years. Glacier retreat is unmatched for 2000 years, concentrations of carbon dioxide are unmatched for at least 2 million years. So it was really synthesising the latest science on how the climate is changing. The second report from working group to focus primarily on climate impacts that the world is already feeling, climate risks that will feel in the near term in the long term, our vulnerability to these risks and the effectiveness of different adaptation strategies. And then the third report from working group three focused on different pathways for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to limit global temperature rise to ideally 1.5 degrees.

Nicholas Walton 2:56

Preety when you were reading these reports, was it what you'd expected? Or was there anything that surprised you?

Preety Bhandari 3:01

The outcomes of all the three reports have been in the range of the expected I would say, to the extent that we all know that it is a code red for humanity? The working group one report, as my colleague Sophia said, has clearly shown that the science is telling us that the emissions are way off track. The working group two report has shown that we are already in a 1.1 degree temperature increase world, with impacts across various regions across various sectors, and also portending to what it could be like under a 1.5 degrees scenario or two degree scenario. And working group three has further strengthened the evidence on what are the options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? What are the technologies, the available technologies, what would be the cost of mitigating climate change? So to that extent, it is expected but what has been new in these reports is, if I were to take the latest one, the working group three report, the level of urgency that it has brought to the fore that we have basically three years by 2025 to peak emissions. And by 2030, we have to half the. So you know, we were talking about a decade for action, but that decade is actually narrowing down even further. So that is the unexpected part of it. What is also different in both the working group two and working group three reports is the emphasis on social science. So for instance, the working group three, report on mitigation for the first time has looked at demand side the possibilities and you know, changes in lifestyle and behavioral changes that need to be unleashed to be able to reduce emissions. Similarly, the working group two report has focused on poverty and equity, which will obviously be impacted by the various climate impacts that would again, be unravelled, so to say. So that linkage between the physical science, the social science, I think, and also, between mitigation, adaptation and sustainable development per se, I think is an important way to show the dependencies, the risks, and the co-benefits of taking actions. So if this is not a signal enough for the policy makers, to make a difference to change course, I don't know what more do we require from the IPCC?

Nicholas Walton 6:06

Sophie, you're one of the co-authors of an insights article on the web WRI website looking at all the various things that need to be done, but it's not just a question of picking one or two. It's pick all of them, isn't it?

Sophie Boehm 6:17

Yes, so we've gone past the point where we can prioritize cost effective solutions or low hanging fruit. The IPCC finds that transformations across essentially all major systems are now required to hold global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. So in this latest report that includes scaling up clean energy, doubling down on innovation to decarbonize industry, incentivizing green buildings, redesigning cities and shifting to zero and low carbon transport as well as protecting and restoring and sustainably managing ecosystems and producing more food with fewer emissions. And to Preety’s point, also around these demand side shifts around curbing food loss and waste and shifting to more sustainable diets. So we really can't afford to put any of these transformations on the backburner, it's essential to start acting on all of them now the IPCC finds that we can only hold global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees if we act immediately.

Nicholas Walton 7:26

And the action that you're talking about isn't just in terms of reducing the amount of carbon that would otherwise be emitting. It's also about taking away carbon that's already in the atmosphere. And that then involves new technologies, both ecological ones like restoration or reforestation, and artificial ones?

Sophie Boehm 7:43

Right, that's exactly right. So this latest IPCC report found that in all of the pathways that limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, they all depend on carbon removal, with estimates ranging from between five to 16 Giga tonnes of CO2 per year by around 2050. And so in the near term, restoring natural carbon sinks like forests is a relatively cost effective, readily available carbon removal approach that, if done, well can deliver lots of co-benefits. But the carbon stored in these ecosystems is vulnerable to disturbances like wildfires, which are only going to intensify as climate risks increase. And during these disturbances, they can release carbon back into the atmosphere. So given that impermanence or the concerns around impermanence, as well as the scale of carbon removal that's going to be needed, there is, as you suggest, also the need to explore carbon removal technologies. These are relatively nascent, though, and they come with different costs and benefits. So it's really critical in the coming years to scale up our investments in research, development and deployment so that we can better understand the costs and benefits and risks of these different approaches before we start to really deploy them.

Nicholas Walton 9:08

Preety back to you. The thing you mentioned earlier on about lifestyles and behaviors and what we do every day, what we own, what we consume, and all that. I understand that the report draws a distinction between those that are already wealthy and consume much more carbon in their daily lives compared to those who are poorer, and contribute far less to the problem.

Preety Bhandari 9:26

Nicholas obviously there will be a differentiated response depending on the socio economic context, but the IPCC working group three report also has brought forth a stark number that, you know, the rich in the world are contributing to as much as 36 to 45% of greenhouse gas emissions. So it is the lifestyles of the rich. And they are across both developed and developing countries, though the predominance of course, is in developed countries. So if 36 to 45% of those emissions are coming from the rich, then there is that tremendous scope, as Sophia was talking about, and the poor are contributing very little. And there have been some arguments made that you know, access to energy will be increasing in developing countries, and that would contribute to increasing emissions. But IPCC report has clearly shown that providing access to clean energy to the poor and developing countries is not going to lead to a significant increase in emissions. So the onus then, again, comes back to those who are privileged, I would say, to walk where we can and to change our diets and to be more sustainable and leave a lower carbon footprint. So there are options available. Of course, there will be some incentives required also to bring about those behavioral changes. And this report has shown, you know, that there are policy options available to make that happen.

Sophie Boehm 11:07

And Nicholas, just to add, the mitigation potential of shifting these consumption patterns, particularly among the world's wealthiest is significant. The IPCC estimates that these demand side shifts could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to upwards of 70% by 2050. These changes in lifestyles and behaviors can make an enormous difference.

Nicholas Walton 11:31

What about the countries that aren't in the poorest lot, aren't in the richest lot, but are in the middle, but where economic growth is really happening? And people are seizing lifestyles vastly different from those of their parents. So that's diets, cars, foreign holidays, massive amount of extra consumption, year on year. I'm thinking, for instance, about East and Southeast Asia and quite a few other parts of the world. Where do they fit in?

Sophie Boehm 11:53

The kind of sections that we're referring to actually look at households with income in the top 10%, globally. So it's not really looking at it by countries, it's looking at the wealthiest within developed and developing countries.

Preety Bhandari 12:10

As the IPCC report showed that two thirds of those top 10% of course, are living in developed countries, and there is a lot of room over there to change lifestyles. But you know, the balance one third, of course, lives in fast growing developing countries. And while there is that aspirational aspect of those getting rich in developing countries, to ape the lifestyles of those in developed countries, there are possibilities to modify those lifestyles as well. I could take the example of you know, ownership of cars. It is a status symbol in in many developing countries to own a car to aspire to that kind of, you know, lifestyle, but to the extent that options could be provided for mobility, which does not, you know, rely so much on personalized modes of transportation to that extent, even for the rich in developing countries, there are possibilities for reducing their emissions and it does not excuse them from that responsibility, I would say, of reducing emissions.

Nicholas Walton 13:27

Throwing forward to the rest of the year, how will you judge progress whether the report is being taken seriously and turned into action, as we build up to the IPCC synthesis report later in the year,

Preety Bhandari 13:38

the scientists have done their work, they have provided the evidence that is needed for the policymakers to take the next step. So in terms of the first opportunity for science to influence the policymakers’ concept, the intercession knows in June in the UNFCCC process, where the negotiators will be considering the outcomes of the IPCC reports and there will be certain important processes launched, which includes discussions related to the global goal on adaptation, discussions related to a work program on funding arrangements for loss and damage, and also a work program on mitigation, ambition and implementation of mitigation for which a decision is expected at COP27. So it is now up to the negotiators and policymakers to take the cue from the scientists, and really, you know, buckle up to make sure that what was envisaged in the Paris Agreement really comes to fruition through the actions and agreements that they unveiled in the rest of the year, as we said earlier. The window of opportunity has rarely narrowed down and the working group three report, you know, is basically pointing out two avenues for lost hope so, so the policy makers have the challenge in front of them to help us navigate this and to bring us to a point of at least keeping the 1.5 degree goal alive.

Sophie Boehm 15:34

I mean, I think we saw in the lead up to the last COP many countries pledging to reach net zero by around mid-century. But a number of studies including UNEP submissions gap report showed that countries’ near term targets were still not ambitious enough and didn't place them on credible pathways to reaching net zero. And I think, you know, from a mitigation perspective, the IPCC report makes clear that immediate action is needed and that we need to peak GHG emissions between 2020 and before 2225 at the latest. So I will really be looking for countries to strengthen their near term commitments and near term action so that we don't miss that critical milestone.