Not just another climate report: main messages from the UN report on tackling emissions

  • 13 Apr 2014, 14:15
  • Robin Webster

If we're going to curb the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, the world's governments need to co-operate - and they're running out of time to do it. That's one of the top-line messages from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s latest mega-report into current and future greenhouse gas emissions. 

Today's report is the last in a series of three from the IPCC. The first two summarised the physical evidence base for climate change and its potential  impacts on ecosystems and human societies. Now the organisation is looking at what's likely to happen to greenhouse gas emissions over the course of this century - and what possibilities there are for reversing the upwards trend. 

The full report runs to thousands of pages, providing an overview of all the research in the area. In order to complete it, the scientists assessed more than 1200 scenarios for how the future might unfold from different studies. The report's  summary is slightly more digestible, at just 33 pages. Here's our run-down of its key points. 

Emissions rising

Between 2000 and 2010, greenhouse gas emissions grew at 2.2 per cent a year -  a faster rate of increase than over the previous three decades. Human-caused emissions were "the highest in human history" in the first decade of this century, the IPCC says. 

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The what, when and where of global greenhouse gas emissions: A visual summary of the IPCC’s climate mitigation report

  • 13 Apr 2014, 10:50
  • Mat Hope

Erhard Renz

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third and final instalment of its big report today. It calls for policymakers across the globe to come together to formulate ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions and avert the worst impacts of climate change.

The IPCC provides a number of charts and graphics to illustrate the complex report - some more obvious than others. We do our best to translate three of the most startling, showing what the IPCC says must be done, when emissions need to be cut, and where those reductions can be made.

What must be done

In 1992, countries agreed to curb global greenhouse gas emissions to try and prevent temperatures from rising by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. For this to remain possible, countries are going to have to make some significant emissions cuts over the coming decades, the IPCC says.

This graph shows how emissions will have to change between now and 2100 if the world is going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, according to the IPCC's modelling:

WG3 SPM Emissions Pathways

Each of the coloured strips is a different emissions pathway - or scenario - that the IPCC has modelled.

The amount of warming the world will experience is related to the proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, known as the emissions concentration. There's about a 66 per cent chance of keeping warming to two degrees if the emissions concentration stays between 430 and 480 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100, the IPCC estimates - the light blue strip on the graph above.

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How to read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports

  • 13 Apr 2014, 10:02
  • Mat Hope


The UN's three new climate reports are thousands of pages long and contain a huge amount of detail on topics as diverse as flood risk to bioenergy. So how do you stop them from becoming the world's best-researched doorstop? Here's our guide to navigating the reports.

Three reports

Three publications make up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) comprehensive review of climate change research, known as the Fifth Assessment Report (or AR5). As they're such big pieces of work, the IPCC only produces a new assessment report every five or six years.

So where do you start? First, make sure you're reading the right document.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 At 10.16.38

Responsibility for writing the reports is shared across three sets of scientists, known as Working Groups (sometimes referred to as WGs).

The WG1 report was released last September, WG2 came out yesterday, and WG3 is due in a week's time.

The Working Group 1 report looks at the physical scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change. Working Group 2 is tasked with assessing the impacts of climate change, and options for adapting to it. Working Group 3 tries to work out how policymakers can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and curb climate change.

In addition to each of the working group's reports is a synthesis report which brings together all of the IPCC's research.

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What’s mitigation? A short and straightforward summary of the IPCC’s latest report

  • 13 Apr 2014, 10:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Today an international group of hundreds of climate scientists released a  report on how nations can act to limit climate change.

The three-part report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assesses the current state of climate change science. The organisation has just published the final part of the report, looking at how the world can cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning it traps heat in the atmosphere. Scientists now understand that this warming is changing the climate.

The first instalment of the IPCC's report, released last September, says scientists are more sure than ever - 95 per cent certain - that humans are causing extra warming in the oceans, land and atmosphere. As a result, snow and ice is melting and sea levels are rising.

Scientists now know much more about the risks the world faces as the climate changes, too. The IPCC says climate change is already contributing to problems like flooding, disruption to farming and food supply and species migration and extinction.

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A big report on how to tackle climate change will be published this weekend: How is it being reported?

  • 11 Apr 2014, 14:40
  • Mat Hope

Hundreds of scientists and policymakers are meeting in Berlin this week to discuss a major new UN climate change report. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release the third and final instalment of its review of the current state of climate change research on Sunday.

While the first two reports aimed to better define the climate change problem, Sunday's report focuses on potential solutions. The first part of the report, released last September, covered the physical science of climate - from extreme rainfall to Arctic ice melt. The second part of the report - released at the end of March - looked at how rising emissions could affect extreme weather, food production, and human security.

Sunday's report will focus on what governments need to do to avoid the worst of those impacts. It is expected to emphasise the need for international cooperation to curb emissions, suggesting a variety of ways countries can decarbonise their economies.

With the notoriously leaky IPCC process in full swing, newspapers have been previewing some of the key findings. So what can we expect from next week's report?

Two degrees

In 1992, countries agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, to prevent global temperatures rising by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Since then, emissions have continued to rise. The IPCC's report is expected to say that the longer this goes on, the harder it will be for countries to keep to the pledge.


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Daily Briefing | Green energy spending to combat climate change

  • 11 Apr 2014, 09:20
  • Carbon Brief staff

Dorcas Sinclair

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Britain must increase spending on green energy by ten times in next 15 years to help reduce global warming, says UN 
The mail quotes leaked figures from Sunday's IPCC report, indicating that cutting greenhouse gases to manageable levels will cost up to four per cent of global GDP by 2030. The UK needs to up its renewables spending to fulfil its share but prominent climate skeptics Lord Lawson and Lord Howe - both quoted in the piece - say funds should be diverted to adaptation instead. 
Daily Mail 

Climate and energy news:

Westminster's £10m loan delays coal mine closure 
Energy minister, Michael Fallon, has confirmed plans to offer a last minute reprieve to two of Britain's remaining deep-pit coal mines, in the shape of a £10m loan. The loan will prevent the loss of 2,000 staff employed by the company, the piece reports. 
The Financial Times 

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Germany’s Energiewende reforms are a step towards giving renewables back to corporations

  • 10 Apr 2014, 14:30
  • Craig Morris

Cezary Piwowarski

On Tuesday, Germany announced some new policy reforms to its high-profile 'energy revolution'. Some  reports have suggested the country is slamming on the brakes to prevent renewable energy further pushing up prices. In fact, with these new reforms, the government's main priority seems to be protecting big business while continuing to roll out renewables.

Germany's energy transition - the  Energiewende - has largely been a bottom-up grassroots movement over the past 25 years. Citizens and energy cooperatives account for roughly half the investments. Large utilities are only just now getting on board.

Firms like RWE and Eon have seen their share prices drop dramatically over the past four years. During that time, wind and solar power have largely offset demand for expensive peak generation capacity, lowering wholesale prices for  four years in a row.

The real policy changes designed to rescue Germany's Big Four will be announced later, when the discussion turns to capacity payments. But this week's reforms could help those big companies in a number of ways.

German disrupted

At the beginning of the month, Renewables International began a new series of charts to track the plight of conventional baseload power in Germany under wholesale prices too low for profitability.

Onshore wind is community wind

At the end of 2013, Germany had  33.8 gigawatts  of wind power installed. Only about one gigawatt of that was offshore. By 2020, Germany is to have 6.5 gigawatts in the water. There is no such target for onshore, which, in contrast, is to be prevented from growing too quickly (see below).

A big difference between offshore and onshore wind power is that local communities don't have a stake in offshore in the same way. German wind organization BWE, which mainly represents citizen owners of onshore turbines, is  remarkably lukewarm about offshore, when compared to British and American wind organizations.

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Daily Briefing | Government launches renewable heat incentive

  • 10 Apr 2014, 09:25
  • Carbon Brief staff

Source: Baracoda

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Renewable heat incentive offers homeowners money to switch from oil 
Homeowners reliant on oil for heating will now be offered payments to switch to renewable energy alternatives as a part of a new government scheme to cut carbon emissions from heat. The domestic renewable heat incentive, which offers financial incentives for biomass boilers, solar thermal systems, ground source heat pumps and air source heat pumps, is the first of its kind in the world. 
The Guardian 

Climate and energy news:

Scientists seek climate-friendly cow of the future 
A White House climate initiative to cut methane emissions has boosted a "quixotic" search for the "cow of the future", according to the Financial Times - a next-generation creature whose greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by anti-methane pills, burp scanners and gas backpacks. Meanwhile a Labour peer has suggested people eat less baked beans, according to Mail Online
Financial Times 

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Regional changes, global effects: an interview with IPCC Arctic specialist Jan-Gunnar Winther

  • 09 Apr 2014, 10:30
  • Ros Donald

Climate change is affecting the Arctic further and faster than any other part of the world. Carbon Brief speaks to Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lead author Jan-Gunnar Winther about how the new report from the UN panel on the impacts of climate change relates to this highly sensitive region. 

What are the three main messages in the IPCC report concerning the Arctic?

First, it's important to stress that climate change with an anthropogenic component is having a greater effect in the Arctic than in other parts of the world, according to the report.

Second, it shows that we now have quite substantial knowledge that change in the Arctic region is having an effect on weather and climate in the northern hemisphere. We now know that regional changes - particularly in the Arctic - can have global effects.

And third, the report indicates that climate models have so far failed to give us accurate projections for the future of the Arctic. Over the past 20 years, they have systematically underestimated the rate of change in the Arctic. For example, the reduction in summer sea ice extent and thickness has been far beyond that predicted by models.

We must be aware that the future could bring yet more surprises in the region.

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Daily Briefing | Climate plan B's, and the 'NIPCC'

  • 09 Apr 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff


World 'needs Plan B' on climate - IPCC report 
A new report warns that if governments fail to meet their short term climate targets, they'll have to reduce emissions quickly in the second half of the century. If they fail to do that, they'll to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it says. But many governments warn that the technology needed to capture and store carbon dioxide is still in its infancy, Reuters reports. The BBC says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's third report "adopts a new tone of realism in the face of repeated failures by governments to meet their rhetoric on climate change with action". 
BBC News 

Climate and energy news:

UN finding on climate change is just a bunch of hot air, new report claims 
Fox News covers a report published by US climate skeptic campaign group the Heartland Institute in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest report. The "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" says human impact on the global climate is small, changing temperatures are within a historic scope of temperature variables and there is no net harm to human health of the production of food. 
Fox News 

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