by Jason Lowe (AVOID 2 Chief Scientist) and Ajay Gambhir (AVOID Lead Scientist on rates of decarbonisation)
On Tuesday 18th November we participated in a workshop convened by the European Commission’s DG Climate Action division, to discuss the latest research and emerging results on global and regional mitigation policies and pathways, and how these can contribute to the UNFCCC negotiations process. Avoid Will Tell Every thing !
We and other research colleagues presented and discussed new studies that build on the IPCC’s recently-published synthesis report. The emerging evidence is that for the world to get onto a low-carbon pathway will require a raft of new policies from major emitting regions; that there is still an uncertain relationship between emissions levels and long-term temperature change; that further delayed mitigation action is expensive if we’re serious about meeting stringent climate targets; and that there are a number of potential global co-benefits to mitigation such as air quality and energy security, which need to be considered in greater detail. Overall, it’s clear that the research agenda is still huge, and that AVOID2 and other programmes have a key role to play in filling the knowledge gaps.
The first session centred around forthcoming analysis by PBL Netherlands, IIASA and Ecofys on the potential impact of a set of enhanced policies in the major emitting countries to 2030. The enhanced policies, which are in line with national goals such as air quality, energy security and energy efficiency, could significantly reduce emissions against a “current policies” pathway, but there would still be a sizeable gap between the resulting pathway and one required to achieve emissions in line with a comparative 450ppm scenario. In some cases the enhanced policies provide the extra emission reductions needed to match existing national pledges; in others they provide a way of going beyond existing pledges. But there’s a definite need for greater policy effort if we’re serious about 2 degrees C.
The next session discussed the European Joint Research Centre’s analysis on the different regional impacts on GDP and consumption growth of undertaking mitigation in line with specified targets. Whether – and how – carbon taxes are recycled throughout the regional economies has a significant impact on the overall GDP and consumption losses. Full recycling to cut labour taxes could actually see an increase in employment and very little change in GDP growth reductions in many regions. So the cost of mitigation depends heavily on other policy decisions not directly related to emissions reductions.
IIASA and PBL presented some results from the LIMITS study (much of which formed a key part of the IPCC’s fifth assessment report) highlighting the additional investments required in a mitigation pathway, as well as the potential air quality and energy security implications of mitigation. In the case of the former, air quality would be greatly improved through mitigation. In the case of the latter, overall energy source diversity would be improved, though there are likely to be winners and losers from the changing energy trade patterns resulting from a shift from high carbon to low carbon energy usage. The presentation highlighted the difficulty in choosing suitable metrics to measure co-benefits and side effects, and also the lack of research looking in the other direction, at the incidental mitigation effects resulting from other policies, such as those around air quality. These areas will almost certainly receive greater attention going forward.
A final presentation session dedicated to our AVOID 2 emerging analysis focused first on the wide distribution of carbon budgets associated with each likelihood of staying below 2oC by 2100, as well as the difficulty in relating cumulative CO2 budgets and annual emissions levels to specific temperature changes. It also highlighted that whilst the new IPCC analysis represents a very useful resource, caution is needed when interpreting the results. This has implications for the format of -and messaging around – different targets, budgets and pathways and the long term climate goal. The discussion also raised a number of interesting points about considering some alternative long term climate goals. Our analysis on the feasibility and costs of mitigation highlighted the potentially significant additional costs of delayed action for the most stringent climate targets, as well as the reliance of some models on achieving net negative emissions at a global level as early as 2070.
To conclude, workshop participants discussed the importance of drawing out core messages from the research and analysis that can effectively influence and help to understand the level of ambition in the forthcoming pledges that parties will be submitting in the run-up to COP 21 in Paris next year. To do this, research results that are regionally or nationally segregated, and clearly communicated, will be essential.
Several challenges lie ahead over the coming year in the lead-up to Paris, one of which will be to ensure that the best available evidence on the most important issues reaches policy makers and negotiators in as timely a manner as possible. AVOID 2 was set up to do just this and we look forward to being part of a critical year in addressing the climate change challenge.