Climate Change Mitigation

by Leonie Schiedek 

You probably know it already: We need to alleviate climate change, otherwise our livelihood is in danger. In this article we want to explore some of the basics of climate change mitigation and the current progress that’s made. But let’s start from the basics.

Human activities, additional to natural processes, release large amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) to the atmosphere enhancing global warming and climate change [1]. The main sources of these emissions are: 

  • extraction and burning of fossil fuels (incl. coal, oil and gas) for the generation of electricity, in transport or industry, and households (Carbon Dioxide/CO2, CH4/Methane, nitrogen dioxide/NO2);
  • land use change and deforestation (Carbon Dioxide/CO2);
  • agriculture (CH4/Methane, nitrogen dioxide/NO2);
  • landfills/waste (CH4/Methane, e.g. from decomposition); and
  • the use of industrial fluorinated gases [1].

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; 2018) estimates with high confidence that these activities have caused approximately 1.0°C (likely range: 0.8°C to 1.2°C) of global warming since the beginning of the industrial revolution (“above pre-industrial levels”) [2]. This increase in temperature has already had impacts on human and natural systems, for instance, changes in different ecosystems like oceans. Despite the gloomy scenarios for our common future about possible impacts caused by global warming during the next decades [3], nonetheless, following the IPCC, the extent of these impacts depends on the rate, peak and duration of the warming [2]. As a result, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) considers the decrease in the amount of emissions by reducing the concentration of CO2 or equivalent in the atmosphere and increasing so-called carbon sinks (e.g. oceans, forest areas) as key [4]. These efforts describe what is called “climate change mitigation”.

Already under the Kyoto protocol, many high income countries have set national emission caps for their economies, while the clean development mechanism (CDM) set an important milestone for low- and middle income countries to implement activities that reduce emissions and enhance carbon sinks [4]. In 2009 (Copenhagen Accord) and 2010 (Cancun Agreements), the latter agreed to the implementation of nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) supported by the high-income countries, while high income countries presented quantifiable emission targets for 2020.

Mitigation is the central part of the Paris Agreement. There it was agreed to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” [5]. In order to reach that goal, in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), each country defines domestic mitigation measures stating their ambitions towards this common goal. 

Not only on a national level but also on non-state and subnational levels there are attempts to support the 1.5°C goal, including civil society, businesses or investors. For instance, several cities aim at mitigating their emissions to be carbon neutral in the near future [6]. Glasgow, the city in which COP26 is supposed to take place in 2021, committed to be carbon neutral by 2030 [6,7].

Despite these ambitions, however, following the Emission Gap Report, in 2019, total greenhouse gas emissions reached a new high of 59.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) including land-use change [8]. Further, in 2020, CO2 emissions decreased by around 5 per cent in 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdowns, however, atmospheric concentrations of GHG continue to rise. Adding to that, the NDCs are still pathetically inadequate. With the current predictions of emissions for 2030, global temperatures will increase further and lead to a 3.2°C scenario in this century, even if all unconditional NDCs would be fully implemented. Therefore, in order to be able to get to the 2°C pathway, the report states that the ambitions shown in the NDCs and the Paris Agreement need to be tripled, or increased minimum fivefold to get to the 1.5°C pathway.

At COP26, some of the key large emitters are expected to present their new and updated NDCs forwarding carbon-cutting commitments to 2030 from 2050, since 2020 was the agreed target date for the submission [9]. Further, it is expected that topics like carbon market mechanisms, loss and damage caused by climate change, the $100 billion finance target from the Paris Agreement, and nature-based solutions are discussed, that will play a role for driving the ambition for climate change mitigation [10].

Nevertheless, to achieve the 2°C goal by mitigating emissions, it’s not all about top-down approaches. The emissions gap report 2020 emphasised that lifestyle changes by citizens and civil society are important to bridge the gap, since two thirds of global emissions are linked to private household consumption [8]. What could you do to curb your personal GHG emissions? Find out by calculating your own carbon footprint (e.g. https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx)!

References:
[1] EEA (2020). Climate change mitigation. URL: https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/climate/intro (last accessed: 01.04.2021) 
[2] IPCC (2018). Global warming of 1.5°C. URL: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/06/SR15_Full_Report_High_Res.pdf (last accessed: 18.04.2021)  Check this guidance note to get to know more about IPCC confidence levels:  https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2017/08/AR5_Uncertainty_Guidance_Note.pdf 
[3] IPCC (2013). Long-term Climate Change:Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WG1AR5_Chapter12_FINAL.pdf (last accessed: 18.04.2021) 
[4] UNFCCC (2021). Introduction to Mitigation. URL: https://unfccc.int/topics/mitigation/the-big-picture/introduction-to-mitigation (last accessed: 01.04.2021)  
[5] United Nations (2015). Paris Agreement. URL: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf (last accessed: 01.04.2021)  
[6] Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (n.d.). URL: https://carbonneutralcities.org/ (last accessed: 01.04.2021)
[7] Glasgow City Council (2019). Council Sets Target Of Carbon Neutral Glasgow by 2030. URL: https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/article/25066/Council-Sets-Target-Of-Carbon-Neutral-Glasgow-by-2030 (last accessed: 05.04.2021) 
[8] UNEP/UNEP DTU Partnership (2020). Emissions Gap Report. URL: https://www.unep.org/emissions-gap-report-2020 (last accessed: 01.04.2021) 
[9] UNFCCC (2021). Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). URL: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/nationally-determined-contributions-ndcs/nationally-determined-contributions-ndcs#eq-3 (last accessed: 05.04.2021) [10] Bulb (2021). COP26: what it is and why it matters. URL: https://bulb.co.uk/blog/cop26-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters (last accessed: 05.04.2021)

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