Climate Change

Why is the IPCC’s Mitigation (WG3 summary) report so disappointing?

Extracts from and comments on WG3 summary report of IPCC of April 13, 2014

The summary for policy makers[i] of the Working Group 3 (WG3) report of IPCC (Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change) Assessment Report 5 (AR5) was made public on April 13, 2014 in Berlin. As Dr Youba Sokono, a co-chair of the IPCC’s working group 3 said said science has spoken with a road-map and as IPCC chair Dr Rajendra Pachauri hoped, high-speed mitigation train was all ready to leave the station with all on board, as reported by BBC.

IPCC scenarios showed world emissions of greenhouse gases would need to tumble by 40-70 % from 2010 levels by 2050, and then to almost zero by 2100, to keep rises below 2C. “Ambitious mitigation may even require removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” the IPCC said. The trouble is, the emissions are still rising as the WG3 report summary report shows and there are no plans in sight to reverse that trend and achieve even these targets that may not be sufficient. In such a situation to talk about rather business as usual low carbon technologies do not sound convincing. 

Here are some important relevant extracts and comments thereon. As IPCC statement in Berlin while releasing this report highlighted, this report is endorsed by the governments and is supposed to provide the main scientific guide for nations working on a UN deal to be agreed in late 2015. While governments of the world have promised to limit the increase in global temperature within 2 degrees C above pre-industrial level (there are many who have questioned if this will be good enough), this report does not provide clear implications of current global warming path and credible road-map to achieve that objective in a equitable, sustainable and democratic way. Many of solutions suggested in this report  including Carbon Capture & Storage, Nuclear Energy, Redd+, CDM and plantations are in reality false solutions, as is also proved by increasing trajectory of emissions in spite of so called actions being taken since over a decade. As a Guardian report on leaked copy of the report warned, it seems this report is largely making business as usual recommendations without showing will to face the reality or learn from past experiences.

According to IPCC, the IPCC WG III assesses options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing activities that remove them from the atmosphere. The main economic sectors are taken into account, both in a near-term and in a long-term perspective. The sectors include energy, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry, waste management. The WG analyses the costs and benefits of the different approaches to mitigation, considering also the available instruments and policy measures. In case of some of the issues, our comment on the IPCC statements is also included. The overall conclusion is that the report is disappointing, but let us first go through some note worthy aspects.

“Total anthropogenic GHG emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute decadal increases toward the end of this period (high confidence). Despite a growing number of climate change mitigation policies, annual GHG emissions grew on average by 1.0 giga tonne carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq) (2.2%) per year from 2000 to 2010 compared to 0.4 GtCO2eq (1.3%) per year from 1970 to 2000. Total anthropogenic GHG emissions were the highest in human history from 2000 to 2010 and reached 49 (±4.5) GtCO2eq/yr in 2010.” The figure below provides how the emissions across sectors have been changing over the years. Even at conservative estimates, the emission is likely to have reached 53 GtCO2eq by 2014.

GHG emissions graph WG3 report
GHG emissions graph WG3 report

“About half of cumulative anthropogenic CO2 emissions between 1750 and 2010 have occurred in the last 40 years (high confidence). In 1970, cumulative CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production and flaring since 1750 were 420±35 GtCO2; in 2010, that cumulative total had tripled to 1300 ±110 GtCO2. Cumulative CO2 emissions from Forestry and Other Land Use (FOLU) since 1750 increased from 490±180 GtCO2 in 1970 to 680±300 GtCO2 in 2010.” It is not clear why the full emission from all sectors was not counted to arrive at this comparative statement.

GHG by sector WG3 report
GHG by sector WG3 report

“Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. The contribution of population growth between 2000 and 2010 remained roughly identical to the previous three decades, while the contribution of economic growth has risen sharply (high confidence). Between 2000 and 2010, both drivers outpaced emission reductions from improvements in energy intensity (Figure SPM.3). Increased use of coal relative to other energy sources has reversed the long‐standing trend of gradual decarbonization of the world’s energy supply.” The equating of contribution from population growth and economic growth this way is a bit inappropriate and in any case, since contribution from economic growth went up, separate figures for the two should have been given.

GHG by type
GHG by type

“Without additional efforts to reduce GHG emissions beyond those in place today, emissions growth is expected to persist. Baseline scenarios, those without additional mitigation, result in global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 from 3.7 to 4.8°C compared to pre-industrial levels” (the increase could be 7.8°C when including climate uncertainty). “For comparison, the CO2eq concentration in 2011 is estimated to be 430 ppm” (uncertainty range means it be as high as 520 ppm).

The Cancún Pledges are likely to keep temperature change below 3°C relative to pre-industrial levels and not below 2°C as is required. This admission that Cancun Pledges (which still does not  a credible road map for implementation) are insufficient is welcome.

“In the baseline scenarios assessed in AR5, direct CO2 emissions from the energy supply sector are projected to almost double or even triple by 2050 compared to the level of 14.4 GtCO2/year in 2010, unless energy intensity improvements can be significantly accelerated beyond the historical development (medium evidence, medium agreement).” In the last decade, the main contributors to emission growth were a growing energy demand and an increase of the share of coal in the global fuel mix.

Regarding electricity generation, RE (Renewable Energy) accounted for just over half of the new electricity‐generating capacity added globally in 2012, led by growth in wind, hydro and solar power. However, the IPCC should not have put all hydro on same pedestal as solar and wind, it is well known that large hydro is not considered among Renewable source of energy.

Questionable certificate to Nuclear Energy and CCS This certificate of the IPCC report to Nuclear Energy is certainly going to be questioned: “Nuclear energy is a mature low‐GHG emission source of baseload power, but its share of global electricity generation has been declining (since 1993). Nuclear energy could make an increasing contribution to low‐carbon energy supply, but a variety of barriers and risks exist (robust evidence,high agreement). Those include: operational risks, and the associated concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion (robust evidence, high agreement). New fuel cycles and reactor technologies addressing some of these issues are being investigated and progress in research and development has been made concerning safety and waste disposal.”

Similarly, the claim of IPCC report about CCS is questionable: “Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies could reduce the lifecycle GHG emissions of

fossil fuel power plants”. In this respect, the warning issued by the Guardian[ii] based on a leaked copy of the report seems to be correct: “The underlying assumption appears to be that business as usual economic growth must be sustained, and industry and corporate profits must be protected and maintained. But if we focus on ‘business-as-usual economics’, seeking and accepting only bargain basement options for addressing global warming – the costs will be far more severe.”

Hopeful forecast for AFOLU GHG emissions The IPCC report is hopeful about emissions from AFOLU (Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use) sector: “Most recent estimates indicate a decline in AFOLU CO2 fluxes, largely due to decreasing deforestation rates and increased afforestation… in the future, net annual baseline CO2 emissions from AFOLU are projected to decline, with net emissions potentially less than half the 2010 level by 2050 and the possibility of the AFOLU sectors becoming a net CO2 sink before the end of century”. However, this is not the situation for India where deforestation continues to be on the rise. Moreover, it is not clear if the IPCC report equates forests with plantations. Similarly it is disappointing to note the IPCC saying that REDD+ is a “cost effective policy option” in forest sector, neglecting to note the huge opposition such measures are facing from the forest dependent populations in India and elsewhere.

No mention of SRI The report concludes, “In agriculture, the most cost‐effective mitigation options are cropland management, grazing land management, and restoration of organic soils”. However, it is disappointing that there is no mention of the huge potential of emission reduction through use of cropping methods like the System of Rice Intensification for rice and various other crops. It is good to see that the report notes that suitability of the conclusion “Bioenergy can play a critical role for mitigation” is limited by concerns of food security, water resources and biodiversity conservation.

Urbanisation “As of 2011, more than 52% of the global population lives in urban areas. In 2006, urban areas accounted for 67–76% of energy use and 71–76% of energy-related CO2 emissions. By 2050, the urban population is expected to increase to 5.6–7.1 billion, or 64–69% of world population. Cities in non-Annex I countries generally have higher levels of energy use compared to the national average, whereas cities in Annex I countries generally have lower energy use per capita than national averages”. However, there is little systematic efforts at tapping the huge potential of mitigation in Urban areas. The report has no success story in this regard. On the other hand there are many examples of urban areas demanding more dams in nearby areas at the cost of forests, rivers, biodiversity and people, without doing any options assessment or exhausting local options. From India, Mumbai[iii], Nashik[iv] and Bangalore[v] provide some examples in this regard.

What are low carbon energy sources? It is disappointing to note that IPCC report brackets “renewables, nuclear and electricity generation with CCS” as “low‐carbon electricity supply”. This is certainly recommendation for business as usual situation, without much change for the USD 1200 billion per year investment sector. This is certainly very questionable.

Are energy efficiency measures working?  The report makes and interesting observation about labeling programs to achieve energy efficiency: “There is general agreement that rebound effects exist, whereby higher efficiency can lead to lower energy prices and greater consumption, but there is low agreement in the literature on the magnitude”. This is particularly relevant since such programs are more likely to benefit more for the richer sections who are polluters in the first place.

“Cap and trade” is not working? The report conclusion in this regard is noteworthy: “Since AR4, cap and trade systems for GHGs have been established in a number of countries and regions. Their short-run environmental effect has been limited as a result of loose caps or caps that have not proved to be constraining”. In India this program is underway in terms of Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) and India’s power ministry rather misguidingly wants to implement this also for large hydro. In absence of any punitive measures for distribution companies not abiding by the CERC norms, there are few takers for the RECs and the price of RECs have also been low.

No attention to abject failures of UNFCCC and CDM The IPCC report says United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has “nearly universal participation” and “Kyoto protocol offers lessons towards achieving the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC, particularly with respect to participation, implementation, flexibility mechanisms, and environmental effectiveness”. Nothing can be farther from truth particularly in the context of actual implementation of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is the main vehicle for achieving UNFCCC objectives. CDM has been a vehicle for perpetrating further environmental degradation, destruction of forests, biodiversity, rivers and livelihoods of people to basically benefit the private sector’s business as usual projects and with no benefits or participation for the local communities. The process of certifying the CDM projects as sustainable and additional in terms of emission reduction have proved to be complete failure as numerous examples from India and elsewhere show.

“Sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies and highlight the need for addressing the risks of climate change. Limiting the effects of climate change is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication.” This sounds good, but there are no credible recommendations in the report to achieve equity or sustainable development.

“Effective mitigation will not be achieved if individual agents advance their own interests independently. Climate change has the characteristics of a collective action problem at the global scale, because most greenhouse gases (GHGs) accumulate over time and mix globally, and emissions by any agent (e.g., individual, community, company, country) affect other agents.” This is welcome indeed and should have been added that there are different classes of people who are polluters, different from those who are vulnerable to the impacts of such pollution.

“Important options for mitigation in waste management are waste reduction, followed by reuse, recycling and energy recovery (robust evidence, high agreement). Waste and wastewater accounted for 1.5 GtCO2eq in 2010. As the share of recycled or reused material is still low (e.g., globally, around 20% of municipal solid waste is recycled), waste treatment technologies and recovering energy to reduce demand for fossil fuels can result in significant direct emission reductions from waste disposal.” Indeed, but there are no credible measures to achieve progress on this front, particularly in country like India.

“Policies governing agricultural practices and forest conservation and management are more effective when involving both mitigation and adaptation. Some mitigation options in the AFOLU sector (such as soil and forest carbon stocks) may be vulnerable to climate change (medium evidence, high agreement). When implemented sustainably, activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+ is an example designed to be sustainable) are cost‐effective policy options for mitigating climate change, with potential economic, social and other environmental and adaptation co‐benefits (e.g., conservation of biodiversity and water resources, and reducing soil erosion) (limited evidence, medium agreement).” This recommendation of REDD+ is seriously problematic considering the opposition to such measures from forest dependent communities all over the world, including India. This shows how cut off from ground is the report.

Gas a bridge fuel? As BBC report [vii] noted, one of the surprising endorsements in the report is natural gas: “Emissions from energy supply can be reduced significantly by replacing current world average coal-fired power plants with modern, highly efficient natural gas combined-cycle power plants,” says the summary. However, gas is itself a fossil fuel, extraction of gas has its impacts and the extraction of shale gas, the newest and hottest source has worse kind of impacts. Without looking at all these issues, recommending gas as a bridge fuel is not likely to be convincing.

Conclusion The summary of the Working Group 3 report of the IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report is disappointing considering that it has failed provide the current status of climate change and its implications in 2020, 2030, 2050 and 2100 for the various sections of  the global society, particularly the vulnerable ones in clear terms. This conclusion seems justified even though the report does have certain welcome statements and recommendations as mentioned above. Since this is the summary for the policy makers and governments, it is a very crucial document, even as we await the full publication of the report. A number of recommendations of the report are  disappointing and unscientific, including: continued use of fossil fuels with questionable Carbon (dioxide) Capture & Storage techniques, nuclear energy, and putting  them in same footing as Renewables like solar, wind and micro hydro; equating plantation and forests, omission of SRI, omission of democratic and participatory governance, omission of identification of vulnerable sections, omission of critical view of CDM implementation and keeping them in focus and lack of sufficient emphasis on equity. The lack of recommendation that climate change polluters among the developed countries and rich sections of developing countries be made to pay for the pollution and upholding the principle of equity at global, national and local section is glaring. The report mentions nothing about need to reduce the demand. We hope the full WG3 report does not have more worrying aspects and has more hopeful recommendations.

Himanshu Thakkar,









[ix] On 24 April 2014 on email:

The edits to the summary of the IPCC’s recent report, were all about governments vying for position ahead of crucial UN climate talks in Paris next year. –‘Censored’ IPCC summary reveals jockeying for key UN climate talks by David Stern, Australian National University
One of the graphs dropped from the summary  shows that per capita emissions have grown rapidly in middle-income countries like China and India, but have declined in both the richest and the poorest countries. Despite that, it also shows that per capita emissions remain much higher in the developed world than in developing countries.

Another graphs which was dropped shows that the greenhouse gases emitted to produce goods destined for rich countries outweigh the emissions created by rich countries to make goods for export elsewhere. Naturally, the reverse is necessarily true for middle- and low-income countries