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IPPC Reports worth reading

The best source of information on climate change that I am aware of comprise the 3 IPCC reports (The Physical Science Basis; Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability and the most recent Mitigation and Climate Change).  All are available free online though their volume makes the relatively expensive printed versions of these reports of further value.  The first 2 volumes contain the entire contents as well as supplementary material on CD roms – a valuable feature if you have to are writing lecture notes on the material and seek easy access to the myriad of tables and graphs.  The volumes are each close to 1,000 pages in length so that having 2 of them in CD format also helps with search for relevant material.

Of course these lengthy, scholarly and somewhat technical volumes cannot hope to compete with the cheap-minded sensationalism of Plimer’s Heaven and Earth – apart from being based on the best science of the day they are also much more cautious than Plimer. Despite  being based on reliable science they are written well enough to be valuable resources for most readers – particularly if the various ‘Summary for Policymakers’ documents are used as a basis for further reflection.

The volumes – particular volume 3 – also provides a broader basis for policy options than are normally considered by economists. I am rewriting lecture notes on this material and found these sources valuable. I also found vthis material a pleasure to read.

Although the publication date for volume 3 on mitigation options is cited as 2007 I have only just received my hard copy.  I thought I would jot down some observations from the Summary for Policy-Makers.  These observations split into 18 sections.

1.  GGE Trends.  GGE’s have grown by 70% between 1970-2004.  Most of this growth has come from the electricity supply sector (increase 145%). Global energy intensities have declined over this period (by 33%) but this has been overwhelmed by the effects of income growth (77%) and population growth (69%). GGE policies have worked but not by enough to stall growth bin emissions.

2. Current mitigation policies will fail. Co2 emissions from 2000-2030 will grow 40-110% (what a wide range!) with ¾ of this from developing (‘Non-Annex 1’ countries under Kyoto).  These countries will have relatively low energy efficiencies and spew out most of the CO2.  Forecasts of emissions even given changed population and economic growth rate forecasts are not changing markedly.

3. We can improve mitigation outcomes. Even ‘no regrets’ options – for example improvements in energy efficiencies – can cut CO2 emissions annually by 6 GT’s.  But these policies need to be implemented across a wide range of economic sectors – energy, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management.

4. Mitigation costs.   Hitting targets between 450 ppm and 710 ppm CO2E (note again the huge range!) will cost 3% of GDP although there are large cost differentials between countries.  These costs are much lower with trading of emission permits, when policies induce carbon-saving technological changes and when GGE charges are used to provide double-dividend benefits that follow from cutting other distortionary taxes.  There are also ‘no regrets’ benefits from reduced health costs that follow mitigation.

5. Changes in lifestyle and behavior are worthwhile.  Simple changes in lifestyle, based on education, in relation to travel, building and industrial use of energy can be useful in cutting CO2 emissions. Despite some scoffing the proposal I discussed in an earlier post on changing the color of roofing materials is an inexpensive simple change that does help.   Generally in the building sector 30% vof emissions can be cut with ‘no regrets’ measures that provide net economic benefits.

6. Carbon leakages are significant.  But uncertain and reduced if low emission technologies are diffused.  This is standard and very much what I have argued.  The insightful argument that the scale of losses will depend on liquid fuel prices which only occurred to me recently is in this report.

7. Alternative sources of secondary energy are important.  Some real meat here – nuclear fuels can supply 18% of all electricity at carbon prices up to $50/tCO2E but renewable can supply nearly twice this at that carbon price.

8. Mitigation in the transport sector is difficult.  Improved efficiencies are possible through technology and use of bio-fuels but demands will grow strongly.  Emissions control will emerge as a side-benefit of dealing with congestion, pollution and energy security issues.

9. Agriculture a key sector.  Soil carbon sequestration can yield significant benefits – it has strong synergies with sustainable agriculture.  Biomass from agricultural residues and feedstocks are an important bioenergy source.

9. Forestry can be a useful mitigation source. Dramatic facts here. About 50% of total mitigation potential can be achieved by reducing deforestation in the tropics.

10. Post consumer waste.  A small emission source but one that can be addressed at low cost. Waste-minimization and recycling are important.

11. Geo-engineering an unproven option.  My knowledge deficiencies in this area are profound.  My understanding is that these options are best thought of as ways of dealing with climate change should it run out of the range where it can be controlled by conventional means. The advantage of such means is that they can be unilaterally employed by a wealthy superpower without the need for multi-national agreements.

12. Portfolios of GGE stabilization options. To stabilize GGEs emissions must peak and then decline. Efforts to stabilize need to occur over the next 20-30 years.  Longer-term stabilization options must focus on energy conservation and efficiency, fossil fuel switches, use of renewable and nuclear, carbon capture and storage, forest sinks and bio-technology.

13. Stabilisation gains.   Stabilization between 445-710 ppm (again note the wide range) would involve between a negative cost (-1%) and a positive cost of 5.5% of world GDP.  There are even wider national variations.

14. Optimal decisions on GGEs. Should be based on iterative risk management ideas including both mitigation and adaptation.  The key tradeoff is between more expensive rapid emissions reductions and reduced long to medium term risks of delay.  Amazing the IPPC deduce that optimal emissions control programs cannot yet be deduced on this basis.  The complication lies  in the ambiguous damage costs of climate change.  Nonlinearities in response and increased climatic sensitivity with respect to CO2E concentrations would encourage prompter, more decisive action.  Delays lock in emissions-intensive infrastructure which constrains future abilities to mitigate.

15. Policy instruments.  Should be selected on the basis of effectiveness, cost, distributional implications and institutional feasibility.  A broad range of regulatory and economic instruments are possible. These include mitigation options built into development plans, regulations, taxes and charges, tradable permits, financial incentives and voluntary agreements with industry.  Information and R&D instruments are specifically important.

16. Carbon prices. Establishing a carbon price creates the correct incentives for producers and consumers to invest in low GGE products, technologies and processes.  Hitting 550 ppm by 2100 are consistent with carbon prices hitting $30-$155US/tCO2E by 2050 and to $20-$80US/tCO2E by 2100.  Induced technical changes can lower these ranges but note that the 2050 price range lies above vthat of 2100.

17. Technology transfer and financing. Public benefits are larger than private benefits justifying government intervention.  So far outcomes under the CDM have been low and disappointing. Spending by government on energy research has been falling.  There are numerous market-based options for reducing global costs and improving environmental effectiveness.

18. Sustainable development.  Can boost mitigation but adaptation measures will always be necessary.  Synergies between climate policies and other sustainable development policies are often synergistic.  Improving energy efficiency, reducing biodiversity losses involve important synergies.  In addition making development more sustainable can enhance mitigation and adaptation capacity – for example with respect to biomass production, forming protected areas and through energy conservation in buildings.

I think these sorts of arguments – there are whole chapters of material backing them up – provide a sensible and comprehensive basis for thinking about climate change mitigation.

3 comments to IPPC Reports worth reading

  • conrad

    Thanks for that link (incidentally, there is a typo in your first paragraph). I think I should steal your lecture :), as I stick some of that in a decision making lecture I give (although it’s not for mathematically minded students, so it’s very simple).

  • It would seem from those points that the Liberal’s interest in biochar, and (I think it was them) in trying to directly address Indonesian forest reduction are well warranted.

    Without looking at the report (no time), does it assess nuclear on the basis of current reactor design, or does it take into account smaller, module nuclear which certainly seems technically possible, but badly needs more money? Aggressive investment in modular nuclear may (I assume) make a significant change to the economics of deploying it.