Global Warming Can Be Mitigated, IPCC Conference Report Concludes

May 7, 2007

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already produced several reports detailing the rise in global temperatures, their probable cause(s) and the devastating effects they will have on the environment, if they remain unchecked.

After an arduous week of discussions in Bangkok (See previous articles) the IPCC has released an assessment of what might be done to halt the increasing threats from global warming. The role played by greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), primarily CO2, may remain a subject of contention in some countries, but the IPCC has come down squarely on the side of those who maintain that carbon emissions, produced by human activity, play a major role in warming the planet.

That’s both good and bad news. Good – because once cause and effect is established remedial measures can be taken to reduce harmful consequences – and bad – because it remains uncertain whether the world’s major polluting nations, led by the U.S., are willing to take those measures.

In its summary of the report [available at:] notes: “A range of policies, including those on climate change, energy security, and sustainable development, have been effective in reducing GHG emissions in different sectors and many countries. The scale of such measures, however, has not yet been large enough to counteract the global growth in emissions [citations].”

The IPCC report summarizes the growth of GHG emissions as follows [some citations omitted]:
“Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70 percent between 1970 and 2004 (high agreement, much evidence).

“Since pre-industrial times, increasing emissions of GHGs due to human activities have led to a marked increase in atmospheric GHG concentrations [1.3; Working Group I SPM].

“Between 1970 and 2004, global emissions of CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs and SF6, weighted by their global warming potential (GWP), have increased by 70 percent (24 percent between 1990 and 2004), from 28.7 to 49 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (GtCO2-eq). The emissions of these gases have increased at different rates. CO2 emissions have grown between 1970 and 2004 by about 80 percent (28 percent between 1990 and 2004) and represented 77 percent of total anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2004.

“The largest growth in global GHG emissions between 1970 and 2004 has come from the energy supply sector (an increase of 145 percent). The growth in direct emissions in this period from transport was 120 percent, industry 65 percent and land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) 40 percent. Between 1970 and 1990 direct emissions from agriculture grew by 27 percent and from buildings by 26 percent, and the latter remained at approximately at 1990 levels thereafter. However, the buildings sector has a high level of electricity use and hence the total of direct and indirect emissions in this sector is much higher (75 percent) than direct emissions.”

The status quo isn’t enough. “With current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GHG emissions will continue to grow over the next few decades (high agreement, much evidence),” the report stresses.

Several sections discuss in depth the how the various reports were compiled and how the IPCC reached its conclusion that mitigation in the short and medium (until 2030) term is possible. The report considers a number of hypothetical scenarios involving rates of growth and the various amount of potential GHG emission reduction.

It concluded: “Both bottom-up and top-down studies indicate that there is substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming decades, that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels (high agreement, much evidence).”

The governments that fund the IPCC, which operates under UN auspices, hard answers to climate change. The IPCC has endeavored to provide those answers in detail, taking into account life style patterns, economic growth and the necessity to assure the continued survival of threatened species and environmental habitat.

One of its findings indicates that, “depending on the existing tax system and spending of the revenues, modeling studies indicate that costs may be substantially lower under the assumption that revenues from carbon taxes or auctioned permits under an emission trading system are used to promote low-carbon technologies or reform of existing taxes [11.4].”

The report also said: “Studies that assume the possibility that climate change policy induces enhanced technological change also give lower costs. However, this may require higher upfront investment in order to achieve costs reductions thereafter. Although most models show GDP losses, some show GDP gains because they assume that baselines are non-optimal and mitigation policies improve market efficiencies, or they assume that more technological change may be induced by mitigation policies. Examples of market inefficiencies include unemployed resources, distortionary taxes and/or subsidies.”

Battling climate change can bring cost benefits. In another section of the summary the IPCC said: “New energy infrastructure investments in developing countries, upgrades of energy infrastructure in industrialized countries, and policies that promote energy security, can, in many cases, create opportunities to achieve GHG emission reductions compared to baseline scenarios. Additional co-benefits are country specific, but often include air pollution abatement, balance of trade improvement, provision of modern energy services to rural areas and employment (high agreement, much evidence).”

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