In last month’s edition of InfraRead, we highlighted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group II report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Working Group III has since released its mitigation report titled Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change.

The group’s findings make for a sobering read. At current global mitigation policy settings, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are likely to exceed 1.5°C this century. Without substantially strengthening policies beyond those already in place internationally, we are likely to see a median increase of 3.2°C on pre-industrial levels, by 2100. If we are to limit warming to 2°C, a rapid acceleration of mitigation efforts is needed.

The building, transport and energy sectors received significant attention in the report. Globally, the built environment contributes 40% of emissions, so is central to any chance we have of limiting warming. In New Zealand, emissions from construction have jumped 66% in the last decade and represent 20% of our total emissions. The authors caution that unambitious policies will lock-in carbon emitting construction processes and curtail the potential benefits of effectively implemented mitigation and adaptation interventions.

In transport, the authors underscore the likelihood that globally, the sector is unlikely to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2100. To limit warming to 1.5°C, transport-related emissions would have to fall by 59% by 2050. Electric vehicles, powered by renewable electricity, are the most effective way to reduce land-based transport emissions according to the report. Demand-side options including mode-shift policies and a focus on choice-architecture will be key to unlocking change. Any gains here will be bolstered by a focus on sustainable urban form, especially as the share of emissions that can be attributed to urban areas increases.

Sustained decreases in the unit costs of a range of renewable energy sources have buoyed many suppliers’ emissions-reduction efforts. Across the full energy sector however, the continued unabated use of fossil fuels risks, they say, risks locking in a reliance on GHG emissions. In the broader context, recent energy independence rhetoric driven by geopolitical instability, has highlighted how a move to renewables is likely to be challenged by action to fill mid-term oil shortages through a renewed focus on acquiring oil, including through re-enabling drilling on public land in the United States despite previous climate action commitments by the administration.

Ahead of the Emissions Reduction Plan and the delivery of Budget 2020 next month, the current state of play is a stark reminder that despite some progress, we have a long way to go. Current wider trends, including the volatility around oil supply, will present new hurdles to be overcome in the climate action space.

What is clear, is that the economic benefit of investing in our climate change response will outweigh the costs of doing nothing. Successful action will require continuous re-investment to maximise the benefits of our mitigation efforts.