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The Good News Tucked Away in The IPCC Report

Unless you have been studiously avoiding the mainstream media in the last couple of weeks, you will have heard about the alarming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Naturally, the media focused on all the negatives, but tucked away in the IPCC's landmark analysis is a chart that provides the road map for an escape from catastrophe - no new technology required - and positivity restored.

Man celebrating reaching the top of a mountain.

It assesses with remarkable clarity the potential for emissions cuts from more than 40 options. The good news is that the IPCC chart is a map of climate optimism - showing that we can cut emissions by half by 2030 with options costing at most $100 per tonne, which is a bargain when set against the further damages that climate inaction will inevitably bring.

The chart was compiled by a team of the world’s best scientists, based on 175 studies. Its power is amplified by the fact that it was signed off by all of the world’s governments, from the cleanest and greenest to the most ghastly and polluting.

So what does it show? First, solar and wind power are by far the best option, with the potential to cut a staggering 8bn tonnes from annual CO2 emissions by 2030. That is equivalent to the combined emissions of the US and European Union today. Even more startling is that most of that potential can be achieved at lower cost than just continuing with today’s electricity systems.

Prof Kornelis Blok, at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who led the work on the chart, identified the winners: “The big five are wind, solar, energy efficiency, stopping deforestation and reducing methane emissions.”

After wind and solar, the biggest prize is stopping the destruction of forests and other wild places, the IPCC scientists found. That has the potential to cut 4bn tonnes of emissions a year by 2030, not far off double the fossil fuel emissions from the whole of Africa and South America today. Including the restoration of degraded forests adds almost 3bn tonnes. Much of this could be achieved for less than $50 per tonne – half the price polluters pay for carbon permits in Europe today.

Energy efficiency in buildings, industry, lighting and appliances remains a no-brainer – 4.5bn tonnes a year by 2030 – as does slashing methane emissions, particularly from leaky fossil fuel installations. The latter could save the equivalent of about 3bn tonnes.

A shift to “sustainable diets” – ie eating much less red meat in rich nations – could cut 1.7bn tonnes of emissions, equivalent to all the annual pollution from fossil fuel giant Russia. A push towards public transport, bikes and e-bikes has the potential to cut emissions more than the rollout of electric cars, showing both are needed. An often overlooked option – burying charcoal in fields (biochar) – is relatively costly to implement but potentially huge. Along with avoiding the ploughing of fields, which releases carbon, biochar could save 3.4bn tonnes of CO2 a year.

The top solutions – wind, solar, trees, energy saving and methane cuts – require no new technology. But what they do require is a resource heavily lacking so far: the political will to push aside vested interests and rapidly pursue the policies that will work.

“The chart is a very useful hit list,” says Blok. “I think every country can take it and see in which areas they could do more. If we don’t achieve [a 50% cut in emissions by 2030], it will not be because of a lack of options.” You can view the chart here.

In more good news and to give yet more cause for optimism, the IPCC report completely missed the potential of the animal kingdom to contribute significantly to the solution. A fascinating new analysis by a Yale professor suggests that protecting or expanding the populations of nine key groups of animals would remove huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere - maybe even more than the combined efforts of forests, wetlands, and coastal and grassland ecosystems. It's really encouraging and entirely 'doable'. See: Key Animals Groups That Could Help Save The World

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