Down to Earth: The path to radically lower emissions tucked away inside the devastating IPCC report via The Guardian

It feels impossible. The world has to slash carbon emissions by almost half in the next seven years to remain on track for just 1.5C of global heating and avoid the worst of climate impacts. Yet emissions are rising.

However, tucked away in the recent (and devastating) landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a chart that provides the road map for an escape from catastrophe. It assesses with extraordinary clarity the potential for emissions cuts of more than 40 options. You can view it here.

The simplicity of the chart is deceptive. It was compiled by a team of the world’s best scientists, based on 175 studies. Its power is amplified by the fact that it was signed off by all of the world’s governments, from the cleanest and greenest to the darkest petrostates.

So what does it show? First, solar and wind power are by far the best option, with the potential to cut a staggering 8bn tonnes from annual CO2 emissions by 2030. That is equivalent to the combined emissions of the US and European Union today. Even more startling is that most of that potential can be achieved at lower cost than just continuing with today’s electricity systems.

“What struck me especially was that wind and solar was so big,” Prof Kornelis Blok, at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, told me this week. Blok, who led the work on the chart, identified the winners: “The big five are wind, solar, energy efficiency, stopping deforestation and reducing methane emissions.”

Just as important as the winners in this analysis are the losers. Nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS) each have just 10% of the potential of wind and solar, and at far higher cost. The same applies to bioenergy – burning wood or crops for electricity. It’s no wonder that the UK’s energy strategy, published last week, received significant criticism: it goes heavy on nuclear and CCS, while ignoring onshore wind.

After wind and solar, the biggest prize is stopping the destruction of forests and other wild places, the IPCC scientists found. That has the potential to cut 4bn tonnes of emissions a year by 2030, not far off double the fossil fuel emissions from the whole of Africa and South America today. Including the restoration of degraded forests adds almost 3bn tonnes. Much of this could be achieved for less than $50 per tonne – half the price polluters pay for carbon permits in Europe today.

Energy efficiency in buildings, industry, lighting and appliances remains a no-brainer  4.5bn tonnes a year by 2030  as does slashing methane emissions, particularly from leaky fossil fuel installations. The latter could save the equivalent of about 3bn tonnes.

There are some interesting details too. A shift to “sustainable diets” – ie eating much less red meat in rich nations – could cut 1.7bn tonnes of emissions, equivalent to all the annual pollution from fossil fuel giant Russia. A push towards public transport, bikes and e-bikes has the potential to cut emissions more than the rollout of electric cars, showing both are needed. An often overlooked option  burying charcoal in fields (biochar is relatively costly to implement but potentially huge. Along with avoiding the ploughing of fields, which releases carbon, biochar could save 3.4bn tonnes of CO2 a year.

The IPCC chart is a map of climate optimism. It shows we can cut emissions by half by 2030 with options costing at most $100 per tonne, which is a bargain when set against the further damages that climate inaction will inevitably bring.

The solutions – wind, solar, trees, energy saving and methane cuts – require no new technology. But what they do require is a resource heavily lacking so far: the political will to push aside vested interests and rapidly pursue the policies that will work.


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