IPCC Climate Change Report How The World Can Be Saved

By accepting a reduction of just 0.12 percent in global economic growth, we can avoid the worst consequences of global warming, according to the IPCC. The catch? It only works if everyone joins in.

Preventing the worst consequences of climate change will cost money -- but the investment is worth it.

Preventing the worst consequences of climate change will cost money -- but the investment is worth it.

Climate experts are pinning their hopes on a brown line: It rises constantly and has already reached three times the level of 1970.

The line represents humanity's total income -- the overall economic output produced on the planet. This curve rises more steeply than the blue, red and green lines on the same graph, which represent energy consumption, CO2 emissions and population growth -- meaning growth and prosperity are not inextricably tied to rising emission rates.

It is possible to increase humanity's income and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time -- that's how Ogunlade Davidson, the co-chairman of the United Nations (UN) climate panel, formulated the good news in Bangkok. There, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented Friday the third part of its climate report, which describes ways of escaping the climate trap.

Davidson said the proposals were not about "sacrifices" people have to make, but about changes in "lifestyle." People could just ride their bikes more frequently instead of getting into their cars, for example, he said. But such practical advice tended to be relegated to the footnotes in Bangkok.

The IPCC's recommendations on how to avoid the dangerous consequences of global warming are an omnibus of average values, predictions and technological assessments. The goal set by the climate experts is that of reducing CO2 emissions by between 50 and 85 percent by 2050. That would require emissions to stop increasing as early as 2015.

That way, the average warming worldwide could probably be limited to about 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. The experts minutely list the current and future technologies (see table) that could be employed to achieve this goal -- many of which are easily available.

Minimal costs

The costs for achieving this would amount to -- at most -- a mere 0.12 percent reduction in global economic growth. That is the central figure hidden in a table in the 35-page summary of the document presented in Bangkok. To be more specific: if humanity were to agree on an upper limit of between 445 and 535 parts per million (ppm) of CO2, it would mean a reduction in average annual GDP growth rates of up to 0.12 percent in 2050, and a reduction of up to 5.5 percent in total economic output.

However, many of the necessary costs can actually be considered investments -- investments which can pay for themselves in a relatively short space of time by providing a technological advantage.

Mitigating Technologies and Practices

Sector Already Available Available by 2030
Energy supply Improved supply and distribution efficiency, fuel switching from coal to gas, nuclear power, renewable heat and power (hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy), combined heat and power, early applications of CCS (e.g. storage of removed CO2 from natural gas) Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) for gas, biomass and coal-fired electricity generating facilities, advanced nuclear power, advanced renewable energy, including tidal and waves energy, concentrating solar, and solar PV.
Tranportation More fuel efficient vehicles, hybrid vehicles, cleaner diesel vehicles, biofuels; modal shifts from road transport to rail and public transport systems, non-motorized transport (cycling, walking), land-use and transport planning Second generation biofuels, higher-efficiency aircraft, advanced electric and hybrid vehicles with more powerful and reliable batteries
Buildings More efficient end-use electrical equipment, heat and power recovery, material recycling and substitution, control of non-CO2 gas emissions and a wide array of process-specific technologies Integrated design of commercial buildings including technologies, such as intelligent meters that provide feedback and control; solar PV integrated in buildings
Industry More efficient end-use electrical equipment, heat and power recovery, material recycling and substitution, control of non-CO2 gas emissions and a wide array of process-specific technologies Advanced energy efficiency, CCS for cement, ammonia and iron manufacture and inert electrodes for aluminium manufacture
Agriculture Improved crop and grazing land management to increase soil carbon storage, restoration of cultivated peaty soils and degraded lands, improved rice cultivation techniques and livestock and manure management to reduce CH4 emissions, improved nitrogen fertilizer application techniques to reduce N2O emissions, dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use, improved energy efficiency Improvements of crop yields
Forestry Afforestation, reforestation, forest management, reduced deforestation, harvested wood product management, use of forestry products for bioenergy to replace fossil fuel use Tree species improvement to increase biomass productivity and carbon sequestration. Improved remote sensing technologies for analysis of vegetation/soil carbon sequestration potential and mapping land use change
Waste Landfill methane recovery, waste incineration with energy recovery, composting of organic waste, controlled waste water treatment, recycling and waste minimization Biocovers and biofilters to optimize CH4 oxidation

(Source: IPCC)

But such a scenario also requires a global pollution tax per ton of CO2. "If one ton of greenhouse gas would cost between $20 and $50 (€15 and $37), many investments (in low-emission technologies) would already become attractive," says Bert Metz, a member of the climate panel. But experts doubt that such a measure can be pushed through the world over.

The problem involved in the calculation presented in Bangkok is that it only works if everyone joins in. But the attitude of China in particular -- the country that will soon be the greatest producer of CO2 -- raises doubts about whether that will actually happen. Furthermore, the industrialized nations still have to develop a common stance towards climate protection, which they hope to hammer out at the G-8 summit in the German resort of Heiligendamm in June. Whether their efforts will meet with success remains an open question.

Climate protection as economic problem

British government advisor Nicholas Stern and a team of economists already presented an economic analysis of the risks involved in excessive global warming and the costs of prevention in the fall of 2006.

Their conclusion then was that, if nothing is done, there is the danger of an economic crisis such as has not been seen since the 1930s -- but investments in the region of 1 percent of annual economic output would be enough to prevent the worst consequences. Similar conclusions had already been reached by researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Much as in the Stern Report, the third part of the IPCC report also proposes that excessive global warming can be prevented through an economically feasible blend of technological fixes and tougher environmental legislation -- provided that both the technological and legal changes are implemented worldwide.

Hence appeals to fears about the end of the world could also be heard in Bangkok. Ogunlade Davidson put it simply: "If we continue doing what we are doing now, we are in deep trouble."



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