The third and latest contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change addressing climate change mitigation was published on 13 April in Berlin. For the last two years, I have had the extremely interesting task of taking part in writing the report as a contributing author and a chapter science assistant.
As a process, the Assessment Reports of the IPCC are unique. In addition to the report authors, the work involves hundreds of other experts and decision-makers as commentators.
Although the work is demanding and performed on a voluntary basis, the position of lead author is highly sought after. The reports form an important reference work regarding climate change. Furthermore, they play a key role as the scientific basis for UN’s climate negotiations.
My main task has been to assist the coordinating lead author of the sixth chapter, which addresses transformation scenarios. Although the work was stressful at times, it was also extremely rewarding. Each draft was subject to expert and/or government review, and before each deadline work sometimes continued through evenings, weekends and even nights.
Working so closely with the coordinating lead author and the technical support unit in the preparations of the report has given me a real insight into how these reports are compiled.
This work has also convinced me that every effort is made to draft these reports so that the results would be the outcome of an impartial and open process. Any literature that is referred to must be approved before a specific date (in unclear cases, written evidence is collected from the publisher) and all comments given regarding the drafts are responded to in writing.
The process culminates in a week-long meeting in which government representatives review the report’s summary for policymakers word by word. Once the process is over, all participants are certainly exhausted but at the same time proud. Although the end result may not be perfect, it is the best and most extensive publication regarding the subject.
Emissions must be curbed close to zero
What was accomplished? The message of the Working Group 3 contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report is clear: without additional measures to reduce emissions, greenhouse gas emissions will double by 2050. Scenarios show that restricting global warming to less than two degrees requires that global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to almost zero by 2100.
The earlier these mitigation measures are started, the more likely it is that the two degree goal will be achieved.
It is clear that reaching the goal will be extremely challenging. There is no single way to curb emissions, but effective emission reduction requires measures in all sectors. Transferring to low emission energy sources such as renewable energy, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS) are among the key measures.
In addition to the energy production solutions, innovations that save energy and a change in living habits towards lower consumption of energy are required. In all of these, technology plays a major role.
Cleantech is an export product
Although climate change incurs costs for society, it also offers new business opportunities.
Over the last few years, the cleantech sector has been one of the fastest-growing sectors in Finland. Strict emission reduction measures offer many business opportunities in the environmental technology sector. VTT also develops a wide variety of technologies to mitigate climate emissions.
Mitigation of climate change should not only be seen as a cost: it can also be a great opportunity. The majority of emission reduction measures will take place in the developing countries. At present, exports already cover a large share from the cleantech industry turnover. Increasing emission reduction measures will create even larger markets in China and other developing countries.
Laura Sokka, Senior Scientist