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Interview | Navroz Dubash on IPCC's Big Solutions Report on Climate Change

Here's all you need to know about the UN IPCC report on climate mitigation and solutions.

Updated
Climate Change
5 min read

The UN's big report on climate change is out. It is the IPCC's (WG-III) sixth report on climate mitigation. And if you have been confused about all the jargon, and have been wondering how this report is different from the previous ones and what the big takeaways from it are, then we have the answers.

The Quint spoke to Dr Navroz K Dubash, who is a professor at the Centre for Policy Research, where he conducts research and writes on climate change, energy, air pollution, water policy, and the politics of regulation in the developing world. Dubash is also one of the co-authors of this latest report and the coordinating lead author of Chapter 13.

Listen to the uncut conversation in the podcast below.

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For an enthusiastic leader who's interested in climate science, there are so many IPCC reports. Why is this report important and how is it different from the previous ones?

This report is about mitigation. It's about the solutions. The two reports that preceded it are on the science and impacts. These reports are produced on a five to six-yearly cycle. The prior reports have told us that we're really running out of time and that emissions are still growing. And so the question is, what do we do about it? This report is particularly important because it tries to answer that question.

The report says that we are on track for a 3°Celsius world by 2100. What would that mean for us here in India?

The report actually says that 2.2 to three-point something degrees is the range. And it doesn't really get into what it means for India. But the previous report did talk about that.

And what we are essentially seeing is the potential for more violent weather events, sea-level rise, decreased crop yields, and so on.

So, essentially, the effects of climate change are going to make sustainable development more challenging.

What are the major findings of the report that are relevant to India's mitigation journey?

A report like the IPCC is a global assessment. It's not meant to be prescriptive for any given country. It doesn't say what any particular country should or should not do as a result but offers broad trends. It suggests the kinds of things that are important to all countries, but perhaps particularly for developing countries.

For all countries, there are some growing opportunities. We've seen the price of renewable energy fall by 85% when it comes to solar panels and battery technology since 2010. The price of wind (energy) has fallen by 55%.

It also says that there are quite a lot of opportunities to reduce emissions. We could reduce about 25% of emissions by 2030, from today's levels, at a cost of under $20 per tonne of carbon. And in some cases, with net benefits, another 25% at under $100 per tonne, which is a much higher number.

It also says that in countries like India with growing emissions, many people don't have access to commercial energy or use very little of it because we're starting at a low level.

Since we're building our infrastructure, we have the opportunity to try and lock in low carbon infrastructure rather than high carbon infrastructure. This means replacing coal power plants, and we could consider building more renewables.

Instead of building cities based on private automobiles for transportation, we could build ones based on walking, bike paths, public transport, and so on. We could think about our freight systems to be more energy-efficient. We could think about our buildings, which have a 30 to 60-year lifespan, designed to be cooled without so much air conditioning.

These are all the kinds of things that we need to think about doing.

The report establishes that there's enough capital in the world for this green transition. And it also emphasises how developed countries need to lend financial support to developing countries. For India, we already have very ambitious targets leading to the target of net zero by 2070, which will need money. So, how do you look at this?

The report says that overall financial flows are a factor of three to a factor of six less than what is required by (or leading up to) 2030 for being on track for 1.5 to 2 degree Celsius.

And that is a global average number, actually. Particularly, in developing regions, it tends to be higher than that. So, we are well short of finances.

And it's one of the things that we definitely need to be thinking about. At the same time, there are other factors that we should be thinking about, like building institutions that are capable of steering this kind of transition towards a low carbon future.

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We should be thinking about ensuring that the poor and the vulnerable don't get left behind in these transitions. What happens to those who are locked in a fossil fuel economy, as countries shift away from fossil fuels?

We need to be thinking about how we design policies. And increasingly, the IPCC has been talking not about individual policies, but packages of policies that reinforce each other to take care of distributional concerns, to try and stimulate innovation, and so on.

In the past, when you discussed climate policies, people would talk about a carbon tax, or what is called a cap and trade system, where you set a cap on emissions, allocate the permits, and then trade those permits across different entities.

Now, increasingly, people are saying that we need to think about packages of policies to bring about transitions. If you want to make your cities more low carbon in the future, you not only have to have to support electric vehicles, but also have to support buses, design your cities differently, create walking and biking pathways, and so on. This is in addition to facilitating behavioural changes in citizens.

The conversation has gotten much more complicated than this and the report deals with a lot more of these complexities.

Finally, these are all complicated things to think about and decide. What the report also says is that most countries in the world are not at the stage where they have domestic governance institutions that are in a position to decide these things adequately.

We don't have the knowledge institutions, we don't have coordination institutions, and we tend to hive off decisions to environment ministries. These are decisions that are much bigger than environment ministries. If you don't create those governance structures, it's very hard to make these decisions sensibly.

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You know you're going to leave some communities behind with these disruptions – coal communities may get left behind and there may be workers in other sectors too.

If you're moving your industrial emissions, certain technologies are going to win, and certain technologies are going to lose. How do you decide how to make sure that you take your whole population along? Nobody wants to see a carbon transition, and the burdens of that had been placed on the backs of the vulnerable.

So, the governments have a lot more thinking and organising to do to coordinate across sectors, bring people together in deliberative processes, and do the required knowledge-gathering and strategy-setting. And without explicit effort towards that, it's going to be a very hard problem to solve. That's another theme in this report.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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