Our key takeaway: The Paris Agreement’s goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. One of the key UK objectives of the last COP, COP26, was to “keep 1.5°C within reach”, in other words, to agree to actions which could deliver at least a 50-50 chance of limiting warming to to 1.5°C (in line with the recommendations of the IPCC’s 2018 and 2022 reports). Since global emissions have continued to rise since COP26, the debate is intensifying about whether a 1.5°C trajectory is even still available. The Energy Transition Commission argues that we cannot let go of 1.5°C: any rise above will have hugely significant climate change impact. However, this will only be possible if COP27 and subsequent COPs, deliver on two things: (1) a rapid reduction of emissions in major developed countries and (2) a significant increase in money and technical assistance going to middle and low-income countries to help them peak, and then reduce, emissions.
The Energy Transition Commission, an international think tank, focusing on economic growth and climate change mitigation, published ‘Degree of Urgency: Accelerating Action to Keep 1.5°C on the Table” (November 2022) which “assesses progress since COP26 and outlines the priority areas for accelerated action at, and beyond, COP27”:
- Keeping 1.5°C alive: The report reminds us that “[o]ne key objective of the COP26 climate conference in 2021 was to ‘keep 1.5°C within reach’, agreeing to actions which could deliver at least a 50-50 chance of limiting global warming above preindustrial levels to 1.5°C, in line with the recommendations of the IPCC’s 2018 and 2022 reports.” The authors find that in between COP26 in Glasgow, and COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, “the chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C are quickly declining.” The report finds that “the [1.5°C] objective will only remain credible if COP27 and subsequent COPs, together with nationally agreed policies and actions” deliver on two things: (1) “further acceleration of emissions reductions in major developed countries” and (2) “large financial flows and technical assistance to help middle and low-income countries peak and then reduce emissions as soon as possible.” However, the report argues, that we should not be “challenging whether a 1.5°C trajectory is even still available. … [E]ach 0.1°C rise above 1.5°C will have hugely significant climate change impact. It is therefore essential to aim for this ideal target of 1.5°C, and to make sure that any overshoot of the target is as low as possible.”
- Progress must accelerate across all sectors: The report provides an overview of progress in all critical sectors. Critical sectors for reducing methane emissions by 40% by 2030 are fossil extraction and agriculture and waste. When it comes to fossil extraction, progress is “poor”: “[c]ost effective abatement potential exists, but lack of stringent monitoring and regulation.” When it comes to agriculture and waste, progress is “poor” due to “[g]rowing meat consumption per capita globally (except in Europe)” and “continued poor waste management.” Critical sectors for reducing CO2 emissions 45% by 2030 are nature, power, road, industry & other, and energy efficiency. Here, the progress is also “poor” in nature, with “[f]orest loss persistently high with record losses in the Amazon in the first half of 2022.” However, the status is “mixed” in both power and energy efficiency: for power, we are seeing a record of new renewables - but there is little progress on coal phase down, and for energy efficiency, there are “reinforced commitments but lack of policy support.” The progress is “good” for road (accelerating EV sales globally) and industry & other (with accelerating ambition and action on the ground).
- Closing the finance gap is critical: In addition to other actions ranging from policy to behavioural change, tighter standards, monitoring and taxation, the report highlights the importance of closing the ‘financing gap.’ Two types of financial flows are needed. First, “Capital investment in the technologies and assets required to create a zero-carbon economy.” And second, “concessional/grant payments, including from voluntary carbon markets, philanthropy and where needed additional government finance, to accelerate decarbonisation which would not occur fast enough unless economic actors are compensated in some way – these will be required to end deforestation, to phase out coal early (i.e. where it remains competitive with renewables), and to fund carbon dioxide removals.” For instance, to end deforestation, the report notes that there is a significant role for concerted policy action which (1) “[r]educes demand for products produced on deforested land, most importantly through a shift towards plant-rich diets and advancing new technologies such as synthetic meat” and (2) increases “the value of forested land as a revenue stream …, such as through ecotourism, wild forest harvesting, and sustainable commercial forestry.” At the same time, until these policies have their full effect, concessional/grant payments to end deforestation are needed - and these therefore need to be frontloaded this decade. How to pay for concessional/grant payments? The participation of corporates in voluntary carbon markets, action from philanthropists, and intergovernmental transfers all have a role to play.