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IPCC Report AR6: Some Afterthoughts

By Tahir Latif - Greener Jobs Alliance, April 18, 2023

When we at GJA decided to produce our recent three-part summary of the latest IPCC report, the purpose was to break down an extremely lengthy and often impenetrable text into points that could be used for making arguments.  As the world’s biggest assessment of its kind, broader in scope and coverage than any other, and especially given its oft-quoted nature, getting at what it actually says seemed fundamental to the continuing debate.

But during the writing it became apparent that just saying what the report says, albeit in simplified language, can come across as whole-hearted endorsement of the report. And that’s not what we had in mind. Our summaries were intended as a tool, not advertising. In truth, opinion in GJA about the report is as diverse as anywhere else, and the following is the author’s opinion, not a collective one held by GJA.

Some critique was touched on in our summaries, but it’s worth dwelling a little more on the pros and cons.

The biggest pro is the starkness of the picture the report paints, of where we are, of the sheer scale of the task ahead of us, and of how poor our progress has been thus far. As was said in our summaries, very little will come as any surprise to climate activists, but to have it laid out on a planetary canvas is immensely useful – time is running out, things are getting worse faster than before, the global south is the most vulnerable, inequalities within societies are critical, all the building blocks upon which our own activities rest. Equally, the solutions dwell on the words we cherish the most – transformation, transition, redistribution, restoration, equality, justice.

Where the report falls short is in its ambiguous use of language, such that, for all the aforementioned words, precisely how the solutions work out in practice is not clear, and probably deliberately so, in deference to the prevailing political winds. In particular, the assumption that the work that needs to be done can happen through ‘markets’ appears wildly naïve, if not misleading. Even more dubious is the idea that a market-based approach can ever generate the level of collaboration and cooperation on a global scale that is required when such an approach is antithetical to the very precepts of capitalism, and indeed threatens them.

In response to this idea of threat, the report focuses strongly on green technology and the financing required to roll it out, which itself places emphasis on the role of the developed world to manage the climate response in a benign fashion. The conclusions arrived at also, at best, betray the inherent bias of modelling carried out by the developed world with all its assumptions about the world order and, at worst, reproduces or even exacerbates a neo-colonial status quo, with solutions imposed on the developing world by the developed. Kevin Anderson’s piece in Brave New Europe lays this out far more eloquently than we ever could.

Of course, IPCC is not directly saying ‘we must do this through capitalism’ and it may be that the dependence on markets refers only to the early stages where we have to deal with ‘things as they are’, before we can move on to build a more sustainable model. It’s possible that the authors know perfectly well that the actions needed can’t be accommodated within the existing paradigm and are aware that that point will play itself out. Again, it’s not entirely clear – the report aims to be all things to all people, remaining consistent on the urgency of the situation while ensuring it’s not overly offensive to those who hold social and onomic power

But I’d temper criticism with a consideration of scale. If we look at the Labour Party, at some Trade Unions, and other organisations, as you go up the hierarchy compromise and dilution tend to take over. At the global level, as we’ve seen with recent COPs, wording gets watered down in deference to certain nations’ insistence and action is stalled. For a report on this scale to say as much as it does is quite remarkable compared with the insipid nature of most government statements, even if the criticisms of it are perfectly valid.

Ultimately, it comes to what we make out of the report, and that brings us back to the original purpose of our summaries, to provide some bedrock for mobilising our arguments, to convey the urgency of the situation to the layperson, and to challenge inadequate solutions even where the report itself appears ambivalent. In that regard, having the case made in this report, whatever its shortcomings, is an essential component in our struggle towards a better future.

A Brief Guide to the IPCC Synthesis Report, Part C

By Tahir Latif - Greener Jobs Alliance, April 11, 2023

This piece provides a summary of the latest IPCC synthesis report based on their sixth Assessment Report (AR6), part C, which deals with the ‘Urgency of Near-Term Integrated Action’. In other words, what we need to do by 2030 to have any chance of meeting the 1.5° or 2° targets.

As with the previous summaries, nothing here is likely to be too surprising to climate activists – the value is in seeing the situation laid out so systematically in the report, but also in the shortcomings that even this otherwise hard-hitting report exhibits, and which are touched on in the critique section.

General themes

Most starkly, ‘the choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years’. The level of urgency has increased since AR5.

Climate resilient development integrates adaptation and mitigation and requires international co-operation, but there is a ‘rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.’

The report warns that past development constrains future paths, as does every increment of warming. Existing constraints include:

  • Poverty, inequity and injustice,
  • Siloed responses,
  • Barriers to finance and technology,
  • Trade-offs with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

‘Deep, rapid and sustained mitigation’ together with ‘accelerated implementation of adaptation actions’ this decade would reduce losses and damages and improve air quality and health. By contrast, delaying would lock in high emissions infrastructure, risk stranded assets, and increase costs, losses and damages, while lowering the chances of success.

High upfront investment is needed, with ‘significant distributional consequences within and between countries’, along with potentially disruptive changes in lifestyle. The cost Vs benefit equation tips in favour of benefits the more rapidly investment is undertaken. Significantly, however, the investment required during 2020-2030 to limit warming to 2° or 1.5°are a factor of three to six greater than current levels.

Sustainable development requires just transition principles in employment. Eradicating extreme poverty and providing sustainable development in low-emitting countries ‘can be achieved without significant global emissions growth.’ Finance and technology development is required to leapfrog or transition to low emissions.

Vulnerability is exacerbated by inequity and marginalisation linked to gender, ethnicity, disability, age, income level and historic and ongoing patterns of colonialism. By contrast, ‘individuals with high socio-economic status contribute disproportionately to emissions.’ Reducing emissions-intensive consumption is strongly associated with societal well-being

A Brief Guide to the IPCC Synthesis Report, Part B

By Tahir Latif - Greener Jobs Alliance, April 3, 2023

Summarising Part A of the report was straightforward as it comprised a factual assessment of where we are now.

By contrast, Part B covers Long Term responses and uses sophisticated modelling to project future scenarios based on different sets of assumed developments. While nothing undermines the basic conclusion that radical action is required very quickly, we do enter more subjective territory in terms of the scenarios chosen and the assumptions underpinning them.

A Brief Guide to the IPCC Synthesis Report, Part A

By Tahir Latif - Greener Jobs Alliance, March 27, 2023

This piece provides a summary of the latest IPCC synthesis report based on their sixth Assessment Report (AR6).

Given that even the relatively short ‘summary for policy makers’ is not an easy read, here we attempt to draw out the basic information about where we currently are. None of these points will surprise anyone but having them to hand in this way will we hope be useful. Note that this piece deals only with section A of the report, covering the current state of the climate. A further blog will cover parts B and C, which are about modelling to project likely scenarios for the long and short-term respectively.

CCS and What it Means for EJ

The Filthy Emissions of Railroad Locomotives, and the Rail Unions Sounding the Alarm

By Sarah Lazare - American Prospect, March 14, 2023

Diesel engines have gotten a sweetheart deal from environmental regulators. It’s time that changed:

This article is a joint publication of The American Prospect and Workday Magazine, a nonprofit newsroom devoted to holding the powerful accountable through the perspective of workers.

After working as a rail crew transportation driver for nearly 13 years, Larry Hopkins says he is starting to worry about his health. “Every day that I work, I’m being exposed to the diesel fumes that are bad for our communities,” says the 56-year-old who was born in Blytheville, Arkansas, and now lives on the southwest side of Chicago.

Hopkins works for Hallcon Corporation driving railroad crews, conductors, and engineers to and from rail yards and hotels. His primary pickup and drop-off point used to be Corwith Yard, southwest Chicago’s massive intermodal rail yard that was once the largest in the world. But in recent weeks, he’s been on the road, transporting crews to and from rail yards across Illinois. “Even if you’re picking up crews outside of a railroad, you are still close enough to those locomotives that are giving out the fumes that are polluting our air,” he says.

There is good reason for Hopkins to be concerned. Locomotives typically run with diesel engines that emit nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, both of which are known to harm human health—and even cause premature death. The problem is particularly severe for locomotives that operate within rail yards, making short transfers or assembling trains, because they stay in a small area and are commonly the oldest, dirtiest ones in service. For Hopkins and other members of his union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), this problem has a cause: inadequate regulation.

COMMENTARY: With mounting challenges over its climate impact, is aviation’s social licence at risk?

By Jarlath Molloy and Finlay Asher - Green Air News, January 27, 2023

This year begins with a reflective assessment of the aviation sector’s climate credentials and the challenges it faces, write Jarlath Molloy and Finlay Asher, who point out this may not be an easy read for some, as there are many barriers to overcome. The strategy so far has been to stick our heads in the sand and ignore these, they say. Yet there are pathways to a safe landing and the costs of doing something are less than the costs of doing nothing. In this article the authors look to shine a spotlight on aviation’s full climate impact and how the sector alone could put us over the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. They highlight the common failings of the sector’s hypothetical decarbonisation pathways and propose an alternative to the sectors’ net zero aspirational goals – which will feel radical to industry leaders but are consistent with how other sectors are setting science-based targets.

As a group of scientists, engineers, air traffic controllers, pilots and airline workers, climate change keeps Safe Landing members up at night. We worry about the future and our legacy to our children. Meaningful action and change is frustratingly slow, despite all the warnings about planetary boundaries[i], tipping points[ii] and the costs of inaction in response to climate and biodiversity crises. We should have the confidence to critically ask ourselves whether the sector’s environmental practitioners can have any hope in terms of impact, relevance or effectiveness[iii].

Aviation greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reached one billion tonnes of CO2 emissions pre-Covid[iv] and are expected to pass this again in the near future[v]. This threshold is also known as a ‘carbon bomb’. But of course the bomb is even bigger because most of the sector has historically refused to recognise its non-CO2 emissions impact. While it is true this is more complex to measure[vi], the data and tools exist to assess the full climate impact the aviation sector is responsible for[vii] and to confidently reduce non-CO2 emissions.

How did we get here? This problem has been 30 years in the making. Heads of states from around the world agreed the formation of the UNFCCC in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit and to stabilise GHG emissions in the atmosphere to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. Action on aviation GHG emissions was deferred by giving the problem to ICAO. In 2015 the Paris Agreement refined our collective ambition to limit climate change to 1.5°C this century, with GHG emissions to peak “as soon as possible” and reach net zero by 2050.

It took exactly 30 years from the Earth Summit at Rio for governments (and industry) to set GHG emission targets for the aviation sector, in 2022, but which are still only aspirational[viii] and fall short of what is required to achieve the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature goal[ix]. This was in spite of ICAO commissioning a special report from the UNFCCC on aviation’s climate change impact in 1997[x] and a slew of scientific studies and research since then on the same topic. Despite its name, ICAO’s flagship initiative known as CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation)[xi] won’t reduce[xii] aviation GHG emissions. Instead, it relies on offsets from other sectors to keep carbon emissions from international flights below a 2019 baseline.

A Clean Energy Pathway for Southwestern Pennsylvania

By Joe Goodenbery, Eliasid Animas, and Jennifer Gorman - Ohio River Valley Institute, December 12, 2022

This report describes the development and analysis of a clean energy pathway for a 10-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania. Due to its abundance of fossil fuel resources, the region has a long history of substantial energy production, often at the expense of local environmental quality and economic diversity. A transition to clean energy provides a compelling opportunity to transform the local energy profile, while ending the region’s overreliance on fossil fuels, to reduce emissions and pursue a path of sustainable growth.

To date, the prevailing narrative for decarbonizing this region has centered around the perpetuation of the natural gas industry and costly investments in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies and infrastructure. Strategen’s analysis provides an alternative focused primarily on zero emissions resources, energy efficiency, increased electrification, and leveraging clean energy imports from outside the region, while minimizing the local need for fossil fuels.

Key Takeaways from this study:

  • A renewables-based pathway, including energy efficiency and clean energy imports from the PJM market, is more cost-effective than continued reliance on fossil fuels. A strategy focused on natural gas and carbon capture will be 13% more costly than the clean energy pathway, which avoids expensive investments in CCS technologies to reduce emissions, while limiting the region’s exposure to fuel price volatility and mitigating the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets.
  • In the developed decarbonization pathway, all coal plants and a significant portion of natural gas plants in the region will retire or reduce output by 2035, drastically reducing emissions going forward. A limited portion of natural gas plants may be kept online as capacity or peaking resources and to ensure reliability, though clean dispatchable resources could potentially serve this role in the future, as technology progresses.
  • The clean energy pathway results in a 97% reduction in CO₂ emissions from the power sector by 2050, leading to environmental benefits of nearly $2.7 billion annually. These benefits are greater than those associated with strategies built around natural gas and CCS, furthering the case for the clean energy pathway as a least cost option for energy transition.
  • Deep electrification of the transportation and buildings sectors can directly lower regional CO₂ emissions from these sectors by 95%. The total annual value of environmental and health benefits associated with combined reductions from the power, buildings, and transportation sectors reaches $4.2 billion in 2050, through avoided social costs.
  • Through reduced reliance on natural gas for power generation and in buildings, Strategen’s decarbonization pathway will decrease natural gas consumption by 96% and 98%, respectively, for two these sectors by 2050. Lower consumption provides an opportunity to reduce emissions associated with natural gas extraction. The value of these avoided emissions would surpass $1 billion in 2050 alone.
  • Energy efficiency is projected to increase over time, reducing regional electricity load by an average of 2.6% each year of the study period. Combined with electrification, the clean energy pathway results in overall load growth of 33% by 2050.
  • Efficiency measures not only reduce load, emissions, and the need for additional generation, but also lead to local job creation and savings for consumers. Expenditures on efficiency and resulting residential bill savings support 12,416 total jobs in 2035, and 15,353 total jobs by 2050. Compared to both power generation and fossil fuel extraction, energy efficiency has a greater potential for local economic development, leading to more, higher-paying jobs served by workers and suppliers within the region.

Download a copy of this publication here (Link).

Blue Collar Workers and a Sustainable Economy

By Steve Morse - Labor Rise for Climate, Jobs, Justice, and Peace, November 2022

We who work and have worked with our hands, bodies and minds to build, manufacture and repair are committed to our own well-being and that of our families. Our unions have often fought successfully toward this goal, delivering on wages and pensions.

It’s time to face another commitment we owe our families and the next generation: to work for a healthy planet and for justice.

The Climate Crisis is now. We know about the melting glaciers, rising sea levels, droughts, floods, heat waves, fires and hurricanes. Youth, including our own children and grandchildren, are ready to fight for a livable planet, and many are already doing so. Our unions must stand with them.

A “Greenhouse Gas Rule” for Transportation

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 30, 2022

The US Department of Transportation recently proposed a Greenhouse Gas Rule requiring state departments of transportation to measure greenhouse gas emissions and establish targets to lower those emissions. The Labor Network for Sustainability, as part of its transit justice work, signed on to a letter urging adoption of the rule. It read in part:

The transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. There is no time to waste as record amounts of federal taxpayer funds are already flowing to states thanks to the infrastructure law.

The Georgetown Climate Center summed up the stakes in a recent issue brief: “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act [IIJA] could be an important part of the U.S. response to climate change. Or it could lead to more greenhouse gas pollution than the trajectory we are currently on. Where the actual outcome falls within that range will depend on the decisions made by state, federal, regional, and local governments about how to spend the money made available by IIJA.”

IIJA is a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure, and the public has a right to know how those funds affect our climate future.

The climate crisis is not coming; it is here now. And given that urgency, we ask for your support in quickly finalizing this rule to meet the moment of crisis we are in.

You can review the proposed rule here and the full letter and signers here.

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