The New IPCC Report: Prepare Now for the Future that Lies Ahead

By Delaney Pues

“Technology-led, market-led or state-led transitions aimed at meeting Paris Agreement and SDGs may fail without integrating dimensions of social justice and addressing the social and political exclusion that prevent the disadvantaged from accessing such improvements and increasing their incomes.” (1)

On February 28, the IPCC Working Group II report was released. With a particular focus on “transformation and system transitions in energy; land, ocean, coastal and freshwater ecosystems; urban, rural and infrastructure; and industry and society,” it also assesses “economic and non-economic losses and damages.” Working Group II focuses on the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it. (2)

Undoubtedly, the report serves as another wake-up call to mobilize the masses towards transformative and immediate action. It reaffirms that “the ambitious temperature targets agreed upon in Paris in 2015 will require at least some carbon dioxide removal (CDR), i.e. all 1.5°C pathways feature annual removals at Gigaton level.” (3) However, it also warns of risks including maladaptation, adverse side effects, and tradeoffs associated with reliance on CDR. While showcasing the increasing negative impacts of burning fossil fuels on both people and the planet, it acknowledges how these impacts disproportionately burden already disadvantaged groups: “Vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions (very high confidence), driven by patterns of intersecting socio-economic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance.” (4)

The report looks at placing an emphasis on Indigenous and local knowledge to “ensure that climate action not only does not cause further harm, but also addresses historical injustices committed against Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized social groups.” This affirms F4CR’s recent addition of equity as the fourth criteria to climate restoration. Learn more about this in the F4CR White Paper, and stay tuned as we dig deeper in our upcoming Solution Series, which launches in April.

As we highlighted last year, we’re not waiting for the IPCC to call for climate restoration, as it is a scientific and political goal. With CDR being one of the main pathways towards any potential for a restored climate, we did look for the most up-to-date research, science, and data within the report. There were mentions of negative-emission technologies, carbon sequestration, and carbon removals. These solutions remove and/or store carbon dioxide somewhere other than the atmosphere, which is critical given that atmospheric carbon is what continues to warm our planet.

A key element of climate restoration is nature-based solutions that include reforestation, coastal blue carbon, regenerative agriculture, and soil carbon sequestration practices. The report highlights the increasingly harmful environmental impacts of climate change, such as wildfires and natural disasters, which will be continually at odds with nature-based solutions. Wildfires account for “up to one-third of annual average ecosystem carbon emissions, while major fire seasons can emit up to two-thirds of global ecosystem carbon emissions.” (5)

When thinking about our criteria of scalability and permanence, it’s increasingly clear that focusing on nature-based solutions has a number of limitations and risks. For example, the storage capacity of large-scale afforestation and soil carbon sequestration techniques levels off over time, and the permanence of these solutions is contingent upon the maintenance of the area, (6) which will become increasingly difficult as climate change-driven disturbances fuel wildfire, drought, and insects. (7)

Technology-based solutions

Direct air capture (DAC) and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) are emphasized as technology-based solutions. These approaches were showcased for both their potential and their limitations, depending on associated incentives, policies, and governance that guide their deployment.

One estimate suggested, “Negative-emission technologies, such as direct air capture (DAC) of CO2, could reduce emissions up to 3GtCO2/year by 2035, equivalent to 7% of 2019 global emissions. However, they can increase net water consumption by 35 km3/year in 2050 (Fuhrman et al., 2020) under the low-overshoot emissions scenario” while “[d]eveloping countries are projected to witness the highest increase in future energy demand under 2°C global warming leading to significant increases in water use for energy production.” (8)

Each solution brings its own set of risks, uncertainties, and unforeseen consequences, especially at the scale needed to restore the climate. The community also has a role in educating and advocating for approaches to implementation that address deeply entrenched inequities, consider potential benefits and/or consequences, and prioritize the robust research and development needed to bring technologies to restoration-scale deployment.

What’s next?

While the focus on CDR was minimal in comparison to previous reports, it is not to say that we should cease all planning, research, development, and mobilization of these technologies. As mentioned, Working Group II focused on climate vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation, but Working Group III, which focuses on climate change mitigation, assessing methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, will release their contribution in April 2022. (9)

This report showed that we must minimize risks while maximizing both climate and non-climate benefits in accordance with mitigation strategies. Stopping emissions as soon as possible will lead to less CO2 in the atmosphere and prevent us from continually increasing the scale of removal needed to reach pre-industrial levels of CO2.

Additionally, F4CR Local Chapter volunteers and Youth Leaders for Climate Restoration must advocate for the research and development of potential solutions while collaborating with groups that are ensuring the phase-out of fossil fuels. Failing to prepare for the future and not meeting the Paris Agreement targets places a risk on both people and the environment to rely on underdeveloped and potentially risky climate interventions. We must act now to prepare for the future that lies ahead.

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Endnotes

(1) IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.

(2) Working Group II — IPCC. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.ipcc.ch/working-group/wg2/

(3) IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.

(4) IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.

(5) IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.

(6) Buck, H. J. (2020). After Geoengineering: Climate tragedy, repair, and restoration. Verso.

(7) Anderegg, W. R. L., Chegwidden, O. S., Badgley, G., Trugman, A. T., Cullenward, D., Abatzoglou, J. T., Hicke, J. A., Freeman, J., & Hamman, J. J. (2021). Climate risks to carbon sequestration in US forests. BioRxiv, 2021.05.11.443688. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.05.11.443688

(8) IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.

(9) Working Group III — IPCC. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.ipcc.ch/working-group/wg3/

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Foundation for Climate Restoration

Foundation for Climate Restoration

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The Foundation for Climate Restoration (F4CR) is a nonprofit whose mission is to catalyze action to restore a safe and healthy climate by 2050.