This is edition No. 400. Thank you for listening and supporting the Sustainable Futures Report since I started podcasting back in 2007.
The big news this week, overshadowed by Ukraine like everything else, is the publication of the latest part of AR6, the climate report from the IPCC. It’s been all over the news, so what can I tell you that you don’t already know?
The final version of AR6, due out in September, will include the reports of working groups 1, 2 and 3.
The first working group examined The Physical Science Basis, the second working group looked at Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, and this latest report from Working Group 3 studied the Mitigation of Climate Change.
There’s a 63-page Summary for Policymakers, with no index or contents page, a press release and the Working Group 3 report itself, which runs to 2,913 pages. I’ve not read them all, but I did find an executive summary on page 208. There’s a video that tells us that this is the first IPCC report to provide an in-depth assessment of how human behaviour, choices and consumption can contribute to climate change mitigation. Our climate, it says, is our future. Our future is in our hands. You can also watch the video of the press conference which launched the report. It lasted over two hours.There is a link below.
The opening headline of the press release states that, “The evidence is clear: the time for action is now. We can halve emissions by 2030.” It goes on to say that the next few years are critical. “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F),” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”
Not Too Late
So far, so predictable. It’s bad, it’s getting worse, but it’s not too late. It’s not been too late since that conference in Rio in the 1990s. It still wasn’t too late at COP26 last year. It will never be too late because to admit that means we are wasting our time trying to do something about it.
Summary for Policymakers
There's more about what we should be doing in the Summary for Policymakers, although, as I indicated, that's a difficult and dense document. The problem with the summary for policymakers is that it is a political document. Governments go through it line by line with the authors and determine exactly what they are prepared to accept. It is the result of an uneasy compromise between science and politics. For example, according to Climate Change News the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pushed for a stronger emphasis on carbon capture and storage as a climate solution that keeps the oil industry alive longer. The report was delayed by several hours as discussions continued over the exact wording of the report. Insiders say that there is much more about CCS in the final document than in earlier drafts. Saudi will not have been alone in demanding changes.
I mentioned the Executive Summary of the report. I’m not sure that that is subject to political editing, but every page is marked “ACCEPTED VERSION SUBJECT TO FINAL EDITS - Do Not Cite, Quote or Distribute”, which is odd because it’s freely available on the IPCC website.
The Executive Summary reminds us that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continued to rise to 2019 and that the aggregate reductions implied by current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to 2030 would still make it impossible to limit warming to 1.5°C. Limiting warming to either 1.5 or 2.0 implies accelerated mitigation actions at all scales. Back in August last year when it published its report, Working Group 1 was calling for emissions to peak by 2025.
Effect on Society
Action to control emissions is going to affect all parts of society, because the way we get our food, heat our homes, travel and consume all have an effect and much will need to change. Industry, construction and power generation must accelerate their emissions reductions. For the first time the IPCC talks about the deployment of innovative technologies and systems at scale to achieve deep decarbonisation. Things like carbon capture and storage. Like planting more trees and preserving existing forests (although there are clear limits to what we can do here). Like the mitigation of building emissions, both by retrofit and by the implementation of more energy-efficient designs.Like the electrification of transport. All of these reduce emissions. As we discussed last week, there may already be too much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, so the report considers direct air capture and other methods of reducing the GHG volume in the atmosphere.
Solar and Wind
The report states that the combined market share of solar PV and wind generation technologies is still below 10%, although global low-carbon electricity generation will have to reach 100% by 2050. This is challenged by the continuous global increase in electricity demand. It shows there is so much more to be done.
At least 24 countries have reduced both territorial carbon dioxide (CO2) and GHG emissions and consumption-based CO2 emissions in absolute terms for at least 10 years, and yet the combined emissions reductions of these 24 countries were outweighed by rapid emissions growth elsewhere, particularly among developing countries that have grown from a much lower base of per capita emissions. Much more to be done.
Without going into much more detail, it’s clear that the situation is not improving.
The scientists can only advise. Our future is now in the hands of the politicians, but the road from the first climate conference back in Rio is littered with broken promises and progress has been constantly pushed off course either by government indolence or vested interests. An egregious example is that pressure put by Saudi Arabia on the authors of the Summary for Policymakers to emphasise CCS so that oil producers can keep on producing. The problem when we burn fossil fuels like coal or oil or natural gas is that we are creating additional CO2 from the carbon that’s been locked up underground for millions of years. And we’ve been putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than the natural cycles can absorb. CCS can offset that, but at a significant cost, and no organisation is going to incur that cost unless it is legally obliged to do so. And CCS is not solution to vehicle emissions: in that situation capture is just not practicable.
Another example of someone who wants to ignore the science is UK politician Jacob Rees-Mogg. This week he told LBC Radio that in the interests of British energy security he would fight for every last drop of oil and gas to be extracted from the North Sea. After all, he said, 2050 is still a long way off. A cynic might say that the eagerness with which politicians adopt a Net Zero 2050 position could be related to the fact that they all know that they will be long retired well before then. “Guided by the science” was a mantra we became familiar with during the Covid pandemic, but all too often that scientific advice was not taken. We can see exactly the same thing happening with advice on climate.
Dr Jem Woods, Interim Director of Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College, said after the publication of the latest IPCC report: “There is minimal to zero alignment between the UK’s net zero strategy and policies and crucial legislation that affect long-run infrastructure and investment.
“In particular, the Local Plan 2030, which has been encouraging new housebuilding, has made no consideration of the implications for climate. We can also see similar issues with the Environment Act.
“New houses built over the next 10 years will lock-in infrastructural investments for decades to come with substantial implications for retrofitting as consumers are still not being offered heat pumps rather than gas boilers.”
Saturday 9th April - tomorrow, unless you’re listening to this yesterday - sees the next stage of campaigning by XR. This week some 200 Just Stop Oil protestors were arrested. Like Insulate Britain, they are aligned with the beliefs of XR and by causing a public nuisance their aim is to urge the government to take action. They blockaded oil terminals in the southeast of England and caused supply shortages at some filling stations. It is regrettable that some people have to be inconvenienced in order to raise the profile of the issue. That said, with the news from Ukraine and increasing concerns about the rising cost of living the press coverage of the protests was limited.
A major problem with persuading people to accept changes needed to mitigate effects of the climate crisis is that people are not fully informed of the risks and the need to make fundamental changes. Changes need not be dramatic or harmful if planned and carried out in time, but governments seem to be too focused on business as usual. If there’s a problem with oil-powered cars we’ll all change to electric, but to do this requires massive investment in a charging network, and a vast supply of special materials many of which are in short supply or controlled by unfriendly or unstable states. The roads will still be congested and there will still be traffic noise and particulate pollution from tyres and brakes. If we can’t use gas we’ll use heat pumps. Fine if we’re not still generating the electricity to run them from gas. People are left thinking that it’s enough to recycle their plastics because 2050 is a very long way away.
As I write, the government’s long-promised energy strategy has been published. I want to go beyond the press comment and read the document itself before bringing you my reaction. As it’s Easter next week I’ll be taking a break, so instead of an interview next Wednesday I will publish episode No 401 and it will be about the energy strategy.
Before I close here are two stories of shortage.
The first comes from Medium Daily where Anthony Signorelli writes about drought in some areas of the Colorado river basin. He points out that some communities are dependent on water being shipped in from nearby towns and that it is becoming increasingly difficult for these towns to maintain supplies. He warns that those who have bought retirement properties in such areas may find that they cannot get water so they cannot live in them and they cannot sell them. It underlines the fact that the effects of the climate crisis are not always in far off countries of which we know little, but can be much closer to home.
New Scientist magazine reports a shortage of sand. It predicts that demand for building sand, driven by construction sites in Africa, could rise by 45% by 2060. Apparently some islands in Indonesia have already disappeared as the result of unchecked sand mining. We could avoid a shortage by re-using concrete and designing lighter buildings. You may remember that I reported on an 18-storey timber building in Norway back in October last year. (Prospects for COP26). Timber used in this way locks up carbon for the life of the building.
On Wednesday last I told you how hits on the podcast had gone ballistic over the weekend. I was looking forward to a similar upturn in Patrons. When I looked in detail I found that nearly 90% of the new hits had come from the US state of Oregon and most of the rest from Washington. Looks like a glitch, I’m afraid. Thanks anyway to all you genuine listeners out there. You’re the ones I want. And thank you too to Lisa Griffin who pointed out a broken link in my 2021 episode which should have pointed to the report from the first working group. All corrected now!
So, as I said, I’ll be looking the UK’s energy strategy and all the reactions to it next Wednesday.
For now I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.