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    We have the tech, know-how and money to tackle climate change now: IPCC head [Gas in Transition]


There are many gaps between the action being taken and the action that is required, Professor Jim Skea warned.

by: Charles Ellinas

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We have the tech, know-how and money to tackle climate change now: IPCC head [Gas in Transition]

 The world has the technology, know-how and money to tackle climate change, but not enough is being done to put them to use, Professor Jim Skea, chairman of the UN InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has warned.

This is based on an interview with Skea at the International Energy Week (IEWeek) conference at the end of February in London, updated to reflect his more recent views focusing on climate change and adaptation.

IEWeek covered energy and climate, with emphasis on energy transition, energy demand issues, methane, CCS, energy sector challenges and the need for new technology and infrastructure.

The world is warming. Emissions are going up. The magnitude of the risks posed by climate change is increasing and is real. But there are still reasons to be optimistic. There are encouraging signs of progress. COP28 and the UAE consensus made a start on the challenge of transitioning away from fossil fuels, established a new framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation and operationalised the loss and damage fund. In the short-term to 2030, the expectation of major methane emissions reduction looks increasingly possible. It is something that can “pay off very quickly in terms of holding the temperature.”

The UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report issued in February clearly shows that climate change is caused by human activities. But expecting a major change in human energy consumption behaviour presents a big challenge. The required technology and infrastructure to enable people to change behaviour is still evolving. “We need to explore how climate action intersects with broader societal goals.”



“There are lots of gaps at the moment between the action that we are taking and the action we would need to take to put us on track to meeting our long-term temperature goal,” Skea said. Addressing this requires urgency, but also equity.

There is an urgent need for more science in addressing climate change. This includes climate adaptation, especially policies and technologies that help societies become more resilient to the consequences of climate change. It is important that adaptation measures are taken alongside mitigation measures.

The capacity of governments to enact meaningful change is slow. Even though climate policies have begun to “bend the trend” on emissions, the world has yet to put global emissions on the steep downward path needed.

As a result, CO2 emissions and temperatures still continue to rise. Above 1.5°C warming, “new risks will emerge: permafrost degradation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity in drylands, more extreme weather events, the productivity of food systems. And sea level rise poses existential risks for small islands and low-lying coastal areas.” What is urgently needed is immediate action to reduce emissions and adapt to continued warming.

Undoubtedly the world is making progress. “The costs of renewable energy have fallen dramatically, with wind and solar energy growing exponentially. Electricity is increasingly used in markets dominated by oil and gas, for transport and heating. But this growth has been concentrated in just a few parts of the world. Infrastructure investment in developing countries will be key to continued expansion. We are also seeing progress in terms of avoiding deforestation and reforestation. Together, energy and land-based opportunities offer substantial mitigation potential in the near-term.”

Skea’s message is that “we have the technologies, the know-how and the money to tackle climate change, but we need to put them to use now.”

But the world needs to do so in an equitable manner. The IPCC report showed that those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are those who contribute, and have contributed, least to warming. Within countries, there are large inequalities in terms of both emissions and exposure to risk. Prof Skea emphasized that “ambitious climate action needs to pursue a just transition, with consent at all levels of our societies. That consent will come only if climate action is, and is perceived to be, genuinely and fundamentally fair.”


Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

Renewable energy is increasingly a big part of the solution to climate change, especially in terms of electricity supply. But the energy sector has a vital role to play, since the fossil fuel sector accounts for about two-thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions. “Without the energy sector, we cannot have successful action on climate change.”

In petrochemical and industrial applications, where it is much more difficult to get the emissions down, CCS could be part of the solution. “CCS may well be more cost-effective in industrial sectors.”

No technology can be left off the table. Oil and gas companies and exporting countries made a big case for this at COP28, pushing for “a UN agreement that involves the capture of emissions when fossil fuels are burnt for energy, or abated, rather than cutting back fossil fuel production.” That succeeded, with the role that CCS can play in driving energy transition now included in the COP28 Global Stock-Take Agreement, making it a serious option for emission abatement from natural gas use.

But the big challenge with CCS is the economics and the business models, not the technology. Despite progress and falling costs, CCS still remains expensive. Deployment has grown substantially in recent years, but it remains below what is required to achieve net zero. Like many fledgling transition businesses, CCS is now facing the hard realities of implementation. 

Unsurprisingly, the place where the greatest number of CCS projects is emerging is the Middle East, which offers the right conditions for the technologies to emerge.

But due to the economics, CCS will not happen to the scale required to make a difference simply by leaving it to the private sector. It will need to be supported by putting in place the right policy frameworks, including carbon pricing.


Concerns and optimism

Even though limiting global warming to 1.5°C has become very challenging, there is a “more optimistic picture” about the ability to limit temperature rises to 2°C. But “every fraction of a degree matters.”

The concern is that the consequences of climate change appear to be happening much more quickly than IPCC anticipated. The world is off track on its goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.

Even though the benefits are clear in the long-term, the challenge in the short-term is that many mitigation measures to deal with climate change are very capital-intensive. The question then is who pays. Not all policy-makers have a long-term horizon.

And it is not just the energy supply side. The world urgently needs to address the demand side and the role of consumption patterns in human behaviour and “we must get on with it now.” “It is not just the transition, transformation will be needed.”

The consequences are there to see. “But if I compare it to where we were a decade or two ago, I think where we are on actual climate action, there are causes for optimism.” We have made enormous progress in some areas, “but we still have a difficult bit to do” and it is a big challenge.

“There is a tendency in many modern conversations towards the polar extremes. My wish is for a common ground where we learn and build our clean energy future together.”