How to fight Climate Change?

The 2nd and 3rd volumes of the 6th IPCC Synthesis Report were published a few months ago. On this occasion, we propose to take stock of the issues related to climate change.

Three previous articles discussed issues related to the energy transition. If you have read them, you may associate the concept of energy transition with climate change. [The History of the Energy Transition, The Energy Shift : What for? and How to Achieve the Transition]

How is  energy transition related to climate change? And conversely, what does energy transition not say about climate change?

To answer these questions, we will ask the following general question: How can we fight climate change?

What do the IPCC reports tell us about this?

In the same way that the Encyclopaedia was a reference for making an inventory of all knowledge in the 18th century, the work of the IPCC is the scientific reference of the 20th and 21st centuries with regard to climate change.

The latest IPCC report is called AR6 (Assessment Report N°6) and is divided into 3 main chapters:

The first report is a state-of-the-art review of current scientific knowledge about climate change. It compiles more than 16,000 scientific articles and includes more than 80,000 comments. 

The second report assesses the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, biodiversity and human societies at global and regional levels. It also examines the vulnerabilities, capacities and limitations of the natural world and human societies to adapt to climate change.

The third report assesses progress and commitments on climate change mitigation, and examines the sources of global emissions. It explains the evolution of emission reduction efforts, assessing the climate commitments of states against emission targets.

Evolution of CO2 emissions
Humanity is emitting more and more CO2 due to its activities (industry, agriculture, transport, building use). These gases are stored for 50% in the atmosphere and contribute to the increase of the greenhouse effect on Earth.
Temperature rise
The Earth's temperature has already risen by +1.2°C since 1850 due to the ever increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.
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What can be done to avoid this undesirable future?

To avoid this undesirable future, we must act now to reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The latest (3rd) IPCC report states that to limit warming to 1.5°C, global GHG emissions must peak between now and 2025. To stay below 1.5°C, humanity has 3 years to organise itself in this direction. The later the peak in emissions, the greater the reduction will have to be afterwards. Indeed, the carbon budgets for keeping 1.5°C or 2.0°C are not scalable. This is what the report tells us about the physical and scientific basis.

The cumulative amount of CO2 (and other GHGs) in the atmosphere is linearly correlated with the increase in global temperature. The more GHGs we emit, the higher the temperature.

Knowing this, different scenarios are available to us. There are five scenarios, all of which lead to different emissions and therefore different warming. Among these scenarios, however, there is no scenario that assumes zero emissions by 2023.

To limit warming to 1.5°C, global GHG emissions must peak between now and 2025.

SSPs are Shared Socioeconomic Pathways. They are established between scientists and government representatives within the IPCC. They depict possible futures from a climate point of view according to the directions that human societies may take.

Knowing that a scenario where CO2 emissions stop overnight is not possible, we have to be prepared to see the temperature continue to rise for some years. This is what we can see in the temperature graph above. The temperature increase is the same for all scenarios until about 2035.

Knowing this, two types of actions are needed at all levels of society (states, companies, communities and individuals):

  • Adapting to future changes, i.e. “Managing the unavoidable”
  • Mitigating GHG emissions as much as possible (to limit climate change), i.e. “Avoiding the unmanageable”

Adapting to future changes with climate change

As we have seen above, global warming will continue for about 20 years as a result of our choice of CO2 emission trajectories. In this context, extreme events linked to climate change will intensify and multiply. We must be prepared for these events. We must increase the resilience of our society to climate change.

But how can we prepare for events that we cannot control? How can we anticipate climatic disasters when we cannot predict where or when they will occur?

Training to understand the mechanisms at work

In order to anticipate the extreme events that will occur, it is a priority to learn to understand the mechanisms of climate change. There are many ways to do this.

Depending on your initial knowledge, you can start further or further back in this non-exhaustive list :

Des participants se forment aux enjeux climatiques avec la fresque du climat
A Board of Management creates a Climate Fresk. Source [Author]

By developing your knowledge of climate issues, you will become better able to anticipate future climate-related changes and therefore adapt your places and ways of life. For example, do you know what the consequences will be for the climate in mainland France?

Generally speaking, floods will be more intense and droughts will be more frequent. At the same time, heat waves will be more intense and frequent, favouring fires. Winters will be milder (favouring early budding) and spring cold spells will be more likely due to the weakening of the polar vortex. 

All these events impact and will further impact the infrastructures useful to our human societies. We must therefore deal with undesirable effects such as the reduced availability of nuclear power plants in summer (lack of water) or the slowing down of trains due to heat waves for which the rails were not designed.

How to anticipate these risks?

In June 2021, the High Council for the Climate presented its report “Strengthening Mitigation, Engaging Adaptation”. The report insists on the fact that adaptation policies must be deployed simultaneously with mitigation policies. It is a question of preparing our society with the help of a national strategy (which can be adapted locally) and decision-making tools.

What tools do we have to adapt? The carbon footprint is the most common method for carrying out climate change mitigation actions.  It allows you to establish a diagnosis of your company in relation to its level of GHG emissions. This assessment should make it possible to detect levers for reducing emissions.  In addition, the SBTi Corporate Net-Zero Standard is a framework for corporate net-zero target setting in line with climate science. It includes the guidance, criteria and recommendations that companies need to set targets that are consistent with limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C

With regard to adaptation to climate change, a recent methodology has been developed. This is the OCARA (Operational Climate Adaptation and Resilience Assessment) methodology. The purpose of this tool is to assess the climate risks over the entire value chain of the company. 

The tool allows you to compare levels of business risk in relation to very different processes. Whether it’s your supplier in the Mediterranean region that suffers from recurring droughts, your customers who no longer need your product in certain regions of the world, or your value-added processes that can no longer be operated under certain climatic conditions.

The expected results of such a project are to be included in a continuous improvement process:

  • Climate resilience analysis
  • Confronting the company with climate shock scenarios
  • Creation of a resilience and adaptation plan
  • Plan and implement actions 
  • Evaluate actions and refine the company’s resilience analysis

Mitigating global warming by reducing our emissions as soon as possible

In order to limit the inconveniences of climate change (droughts, spring cold waves, heat waves, floods, etc.), it is important to reduce the CO2 emissions of our human societies as soon as possible.

To achieve this, a range of measures can be taken at different levels. In particular, states can modify their energy mix to reduce the share of fossil fuels in it. However, there is a wide range of other actions that can be taken to reduce the GHG emissions of our human societies.

  • Adoption of technologies that reduce CO2 emissions
    • Electric vehicles
    • Heat pumps
  • Transformation of production modes
    • Rethinking supply chains
    • Eco-designing products to take into account recycling methods
    • Choose low-carbon raw materials
  • Transformation of consumption patterns
    • Rethink urban planning to allow access to education, health or work with less travel
    • Promote low meat diets

All these measures have a non-negligible cost, which can be a brake on action. This is why the IPCC has estimated the cost of climate action versus the cost of inaction.

One of the robust conclusions of this report is that the cost of action is less than the cost of inaction. Reducing our emissions is an investment that, in the long run, is worth it.

Céline Guivarch, Co-Author of IPCC Working Group 3

The last few years have seen an increase in intentions to take action to mitigate global warming. Now we are increasingly entering a period where these actions will need to be accompanied by adaptation actions and strategies. But this issue can also be initiated by companies. It is even in their interest.

Climate change is a symptom.

As our societies become increasingly concerned about climate change, it is important to check whether we are addressing the root cause of the problems. This means starting with the observed effect – in this case global warming – and working backwards to the root cause through a succession of “Why? The “5 Whys” methodology leads irrevocably to the following conclusion. 

Climate change is not a problem (it is not the root cause of the problem). Climate change is a symptom. It is a symptom of societies continually seeking growth in production flows in a world (the Earth) of finite size. 

This continuous search for growth for decades is the main cause of a number of planetary limits being exceeded (7 out of 9).

To illustrate that climate change is only a symptom, imagine the following situation:

Imagine a bulldozer powered by an infinite source of “green” energy. This bulldozer does not emit CO2. So it is not a problem for global warming. However, it can still raze an entire forest.

Photo de l'auteur [Harald Lhomme]

Author :

Harald Lhomme

Carbon Strategy Consultant