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  April 11, 2014

Demystifying the Role of Mitigation in the Most Recent IPCC Report

Anthony Patt and Shreekant Gupta, authors of the IPCC's third working group report, say that the report should not be seen as endorsing carbon capture and storage or geo-engineering as the sole or most effective solutions, and that the summary report failed to bring attention to largest per capita emitters of carbon dioxide like the US
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Anthony Patt is a lead author on the IPCC report, concentrating on the question of risk and uncertainty in making sound climate policy. He is a professor of environmental policy at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. He is an expert on how investors in the energy sector deal with risk, and how different government policies can stimulate investment by reducing risk.

Shreekant Gupta has worked as a policymaker and researcher in areas spanning environmental economics and policy, urban policy and public policy over the last 30 years. Shreekant's policy experience includes directorship of the National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi (in the rank of additional secretary to the government of India). He has worked at the World Bank at Washington, DC, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy and The Policy Group (both at New Delhi). In addition, he has consulted with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, OECD, UNEP and Resources for the Future. Shreekant has served on several national and international committees on environmental and urban issues, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.


ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC, released a new report on Sunday entitled Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. In the report are different models for addressing climate change based on a timeline of implementation for new technologies, with varying outcomes and costs related to the timeliness and implementation of each scheme of mitigation.

Here is a clip from Sunday's press conference with Ottmar Edenhofer, the cochair of the IPCC Working Group III.


OTTMAR EDENHOFER, COCHAIR, IPCC WORKING GROUP III: It is important to understand that not only a two degrees scenario but even a three degrees scenario show and requires substantial changes. What has been done over the next 20 years or so to achieve ambitious level does not change even if one relaxes the temperature target from two degree to three degree. And this is a quite important understanding, that irrespective of the precise long-term mitigation goal, what Chairman Pachauri said, we have to start to bring the mitigation train on track.


WORONCZUK: With us to help understand the major issues in this important new report and how the IPCC proposes we can mitigate the effects of climate change are two of the report's authors.

Anthony Patt is a lead author on the IPCC report, concentrating on the question of risk and uncertainty in making sound climate policy. He is a professor of environmental policy at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.

With us also is Shreekant Gupta, who is a coordinating lead author of the "Integrated Risk and Uncertainty Assessment of Climate Change Response Policies" for the latest IPCC report.

Thank you both for joining us.

So, Anthony, let me start with you. What do you think are the most important conclusions made by the IPCC in this third installment of the working group report? What distinguishes this report from the other working group reports?

ANTHONY PATT, PROF. HUMAN-ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS, SWISS FEDERAL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: Well, I actually think the report has two very interesting findings, and the first one is a result of looking back at the last ten years. And what you see from looking back is that, unfortunately, CO2 emissions in the world accelerated.

Now, what's interesting when you actually break this down by country or country groups is that you see that in the wealthier countries, like the United States, emissions actually flattened off, which is a very good thing, and that driving the growth in emissions over the last few years has been the rise of economies such as China and so on. We can think of that as a good thing, because it's lifted millions of people out of poverty.

But what we really have to concentrate on with climate change is continuing that kind of economic growth to lift more people out of poverty while decoupling that growth from the emissions of CO2. The report then actually gives us a whole lot of options for how we do that. And one of the interesting findings from the report is that it's not just one thing that will accomplish that but a whole lot of things together in a whole lot of different economic sectors, whether you're looking at urban planning and development, whether you're looking at buildings, whether you're looking at transportation. In all of these sectors, there are a lot of different factors which often stand in the way of people actually switching from carbon-intensive fuels to carbon-free technologies, and a whole lot of policy options which are available and starting to be actually tested in more and more countries that can help them do that.

WORONCZUK: So, Shreekant, let me get your take on that. What do you think are some of the important conclusions of the Working Group III report?

SHREEKANT GUPTA, ASSOC. PROF., DELHI SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, I do think that the Working Group III report is talking about early and deep cuts in emissions. But I think that the message somehow is that it's not going to cost a whole lot and that there are technical fixes available to do this, like decarbonizing the world's electricity supply and so on. I do not think that the report really tells us who is going to do how much and who's going to bear the cost, where the money's going to come from, where the technology transfer is going to happen from. So I think in a generic sense the report is saying something that is something that one cannot question, that emissions needed to be cut, but I do not think that the report has gone far enough, or at least the summary that was approved by the government has gone far enough, to say who, how, how much, how soon, and who's going to pay for it.

WORONCZUK: So, Ottmar Edenhofer, the cochair of the IPC Working Group III report who authored this, said at a press conference on Sunday that it does not have to cost the world to save the planet. But it's clear that it will cost something. So what kind of investments will governments need to make in order to mitigate climate change? Let's start with you, Anthony.

PATT: You know, I think he's absolutely right that it won't cost the world. If you express the costs of mitigating climate change in billions of dollars, it sounds a huge number over the next century, but when you express that number in comparison to the economic growth that we anticipate to happen anyway, it's really pretty small. The report projects economic--the world economy growing by something like three to ten times over the remainder of this century, so 300 to 1,000 percent. Then, actually, the investments that it would take to mitigate climate change would maybe reduce that by maybe 2 or 3 percent. So instead of reaching at a certain level of wealth 50 years from now, we get there maybe two or three weeks later. It's not a huge amount of money.

The challenging thing is figuring out exactly where to put that money and how to put it there. And, again, the report points out a lot of different options. One that people been talking about for many years now is putting a price on carbon through a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. In the last few years, as the report documents, actually there's been a lot of success developing new technologies and getting them diffused throughout the economy using subsidies or things like subsidies. And if these are seen as temporary measures, which hopefully they are, they can do an awful lot to reducing the cost of those technologies so that actually they will then spread through the economy on their own accord.

So there's actually--there is a fair amount of uncertainty about how much it will all cost. I think the core message, as Ottmar Edenhofer has said, is right, is that it isn't that much at all in comparison to the amount of growth that we expect anyways.

WORONCZUK: So let's talk about some of those proposals for mitigation. Some suggested in the report include carbon capture and geoengineering. Now, my understanding of carbon capture is that it's not a very effective technology and that geoengineering schemes would essentially be an experimentation on a global scale, with possible consequences including the disruption of global precipitation patterns, increased ozone, increased acidification of the ocean. So both of you are risk-assessment experts. So I want to get from both of you a clear understanding of these technologies, their schemes, and what can they do, what can they reasonably do, but also what are their limitations. Shreekant, let's start with you.

GUPTA: I do not think that--I think this is a very dangerous thing that--if people are focusing on carbon capture and storage. Number one, carbon capture and storage at the scale that would make a difference has never been tried. Number two, as you mentioned, the risks--we do not know how stable these sequestrations will be that you will be capturing.

I think that this is distracting, this whole carbon capture and storage, or CCS, if you will, is distracting from the main message of the report, that we need early and deep cuts in emissions. There is no silver bullet. I really want to make this very, very clear through your channel that there is really no silver bullet that we can now somehow emit and then capture, pluck this thing out of the air and then bury it somewhere and it's going to go away.

I do not believe that the report is trying to convey that message. If somehow that impression has gone out, I think this must be absolutely quashed. I think carbon capture and storage is not on the table.

WORONCZUK: And, Anthony, what's your take on carbon capture and storage, as well as geoengineering?

PATT: Well, carbon capture and storage is the technology where actually all the pieces of it are in place. It's just that we've never tried it at the scale that we would need to to make a difference with the global climate.

My own opinion is actually somewhat similar to Shreekant's in that I don't see it as a technology which is feasible for at least the next 20 or 30 years. And, to be honest, that's too late to make the kind of deep emissions cuts that we know we need to make. And even if it were available, at least right now, it's actually more expensive than many of the alternatives, like solar or wind, the prices of which have come down dramatically in the last few years. So at least in the short run CCS, carbon capture and storage, isn't a great option.

Where it may be really important is in the future, if for whatever reasons, to avert a crisis or a disaster, we actually--we need to suck CO2 out of the air. And this is where it becomes important, because you can combine CCS with the burning of biofuels. The air sucks--the trees suck the CO2 out of the air. You burn it. And then did you take that CO2 from the exhaust and you bury it underground. And the net result is pulling CO2 out of the air while generating electricity. That's something that the report envisions as a real possibility towards the later part of the century. And for that there may be something. But in the short run, I agree very much with Shreekant: it's not a very realistic option.

WORONCZUK: Okay. And, Shreekant, let me ask you, what was left out of the report summary that is important for the public to know?

GUPTA: I think what was left out of the report are actually--a lot was actually left out of the summary of the report. I think in a sense very important things were left out, because the countries won't agree. The developing countries wanted certain things out; in retaliation, countries such as the United States want certain things out; and in that way the entire summary got eviscerated or emasculated or whatever phrase you want to use.

And, in fact, I want to come back to this point that though I have been author of this report, of Chapter 2, along with Tony, in general I have deep misgivings about some of the things the report is saying and the kinds of things that Tony mentioned, for example, that while, you know, the emissions are growing in countries that are lifting their people out of poverty, particularly energy poverty, this is not--this sort of ignores the fact that countries such as the one that you are in right now have the world's highest per capita level of emissions, and consumption lifestyles that are very, very unsustainable. So I think those kinds of messages somehow have got muddied in the report.

And I think some very important things that got left out of the summary--I think the most important thing that got left out of the summary, for whatever reason, is the wide disparity in per capita emissions across different parts of the world. And I think another thing that really got left out, which is really, really--takes the heart out of the report, is the importance of technology and transfer and funds transfer.

When you talk about--it does not cost the Earth. To contextualize that, our world GDP is $60 trillion, and 1 percent of that is about $6.6 trillion. If the world economy, as Tony mentioned, is going to grow [incompr.] a $100 trillion economy, if we use 1 percent to combat global warming, that's only $1 trillion. That's the amount of money that the U.S. spends on fighting the war in Iraq, if you believe Joe Stiglitz. So the point is $1 trillion is not a whole lot to save the world. But that money has to come from somewhere and it has to go somewhere. And the summary doesn't talk about that.

So I think these two things, lack of per capita emissions and technology and resource transfers, very important in terms of the politics of the process, got left out of the summary. And I think that's really unfortunate.

WORONCZUK: Okay. Shreekant Gupta, thank you so much for joining us.

GUPTA: You're welcome.

WORONCZUK: And Anthony Patt, thank you so much for joining us.

PATT: Welcome. It's a pleasure.

WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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