This report represents the cumulative work of 1000s of scientists and researchers and concentrates all their knowledge into one (long) document. The report is published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is a body of the United Nations responsible for advancing knowledge on human-induced climate change.
Since its foundation in 1988 the IPCC conducts ‘assessment cycles’ and produces reports that reflect the latest science. This is the sixth round of assessments. The fifth was produced during 2013-2014. Each assessment is divided into three reports produced by separate working groups that focus on different aspects of climate change. This is the report from the third working group that looks at mitigation (how we deal with climate change).
Working Group I (WG1): The physical science basisWorking Group II (WG2): Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability
Working Group III (WG3): Mitigation of climate change
It tells us how to get out of the climate crisis. It is humanity’s best resource in understanding what actions we need to take to avoid the worst effects of climate change. In theory, it should dictate major policy, business, and investment decision-making for decades to come.
The IPCC report doesn't tell us what we should do, rather what the consequences are, of what we could do. In a sentence, if we stop burning oil, gas and coal, the world would be safe. Building new infrastructure for oil and gas exploration needs to be off the table.
The report makes clear is that all the world’s current climate targets take us to a world warmer than 1.5oC (the temperature beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic).
The figure below tells the key story of the IPCC report. It lists all the known ways to reduce our GHG emissions and limit climate change. It tells us how GHG emissions each solution could save by 2030, and how much it will cost.
How to read the graph
Like a lot of graphs and figures coming out of the IPCC report, there is a lot going on. Here’s how to break it down and read it:
Long bars equal lots of GHG emissions saved, making it an effective solution.
Red means expensive, blue means we save money.
The main take away is that we should be doing everything in blue right now. Even if the bar isn’t that big, and it’s a relatively ineffective solution, it will still save is money.
Generating energy from wind and solar are the single most effective and cost-efficient solution to climate change. We should be increasing investments into these areas as much as possible.
Carbon capture and storage – where carbon is captured from the atmosphere and stored deep underground in geological formations – is often held up as magical silver bullet. Yet the report tells us its potential to cut carbon is small, and that it's seriously costly.
In essence we need to do the actions in blue. We need to ramp up investment in the other big-ticket items to in red to make them more cost-effective. This includes protection and rebuilding our forests and other ecosystems (reduced conversion of forests and other ecosystems, and ecosystem restoration, afforestation, and reforestation).
This graph does only tell part of the picture. It doesn’t include the additional benefits to some of these actions beyond saving GHG emissions. For example, protection and rebuilding our forests and other ecosystems will have hugely beneficial impact on nature and biodiversity – which is vital for food security.
The graph also doesn’t tell us the full picture about costs – allowing temperatures to rise above 1.50C will cost far more than any actions taken to keep it below this.
The key takeaway from this report is that cost-effective solutions to save the planet and us exist today. Short-sightedness, greed, and a lack of political conviction are the barriers that remain in our way from achieving it.