ROUND-UP: IPCC Working Group 3 – Adaptation and mitigation – experts respond

Sun Apr 13, 2014

EMBARGO LIFTED 19.00 AEST Sunday 13 April 2014 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has tonight in Berlin released its Summary for Policymakers on the contributions of Working Group 3 at a press conference in Germany. The report focuses on “mitigating climate change, and the underlying technical, economic and institutional requirements”. Below Australian experts respond. 

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Comments from independent experts: 

Professor Glenn Albrecht is Director of the Institute for Social Sustainability at Murdoch University, WA

 “The Working Group III Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change focuses on the scientific, technological, environmental, economic and social aspects of mitigation of climate change. The ethical implications of this report deserve particular attention because while global warming and consequent climate change are the subjects of increasing scientific investigation, our responses to such knowledge must lie within the realm of ethics. When the consensus on the accuracy of the science is near 100%, we must ask, why are we imposing such a massive risk of social, economic, industrial and agricultural disruption and failure on ourselves? The ethics of greenhouse gas mitigation require of all nations and people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will deliver a safer world for all. In Australia, given the dominant role that burning fossil fuels has in generating  greenhouse gas emissions, to do our just share to reduce the risk, we must urgently and systematically reduce our use and export of coal, petroleum and gas. At the same time, we must invest ethically and economically in a new era where we make a just and equitable transition to non-polluting, renewable energy sources.”  


Professor Joseph Reser is from the School of Applied Psychology at Griffith University, Queensland

 “These comprehensive reports covering the past five years of intensive research bring into sharp relief the increasingly critical urgency for adequate global response. Yet many crucial considerations relating to the human dimensions and impacts of climate change have not been on the radar of climate change science. Climate change adaptation and mitigation, for example, are closely inter-related processes and responses from a psychological and individual experience and behaviour perspective. Personal engagement with the issue and ‘taking action’ in the context of one’s own life style and circumstances can play crucial roles and provide multiple benefits in addition to reducing one’s carbon footprint. Being engaged and doing something helps people to come to terms with the reality and implications of climate change, and feel that they are making a difference, being informed and responsible, and part of the solution and not just the collective problem. These psychological adaptation processes and outcomes reflect powerful and interactive synergies between coping and doing. Yet rarely do we hear about the psychological side of this ongoing environmental threat and stressor, and accompanying personal sense making, concern, distress, and resolve. 

Heartening research findings show that many Australians not only accept that climate change is happening, and feel that this is an issue of high personal importance, but are actively adapting to this ongoing threat and unfolding global disaster. It is important to not lose sight of these more psychological ‘human dimensions’ of climate change, as this is where ‘public engagement’, and adaptation and mitigation policies and initiatives, either work or fail in influencing crucial individual and collective lifestyle adjustments and changes. 

Climate change is a quintessentially human as well as ecological issue and challenge in terms of causes and consequences, and the psychological and social environmental impacts on human communities of global climate change in terms of quality of life and environment, health and well-being – and the life support systems of all species – are likely to be profound, and with us for many generations if not millennia. 

Issue engagement at an individual level brings the biosphere home, and makes this otherwise complex and distant and seemingly insurmountable phenomenon, personal, local, known, and a collective problem and responsibility about which much can and critically needs to be done. 

The Australian Psychological Society offers some excellent advice and insights on coping with climate change” 


Professor Hugh Outhred is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Electrical Engineering & Telecommunications at The University of New South Wales

 “The IPCC Working Group 3 Summary for Policymakers reinforces the key messages from Working Groups 1 and 2 that climate change is real has dangerous consequences for humanity and requires our immediate action to mitigate human–‐caused climate change emissions. Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate change and is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for both domestic use and export. Australian society has demonstrated that it has the capability to take a leading role in developing and implementing low–‐emission technologies and adopting low–‐emission lifestyles. However, that seems unlikely given the present combative and ill‐informed political debate about climate change and the influence of the fossil fuel lobby.” 


Dr Liz Hanna is a Fellow of the National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health at the Australian National University, and President of the Climate and Health Alliance. She is also currently Director of an NHMRC Project: Working in the Heat – health risks and adaptation needs

 Text in brackets is taken from the Summary for Policymakers 

[On the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) Chapter 3 –  Trends in stocks and flows of greenhouse gases and their drivers: ‘Total anthropogenic GHG emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute decadal increases toward the end of this period’] 

“This means that despite all the negotiations, agreements and promises, governments around the world, including Australia, have failed. In the face of an increasingly likely crisis, they have continued to put lives of millions at risk. Grandstanding, passing the buck of responsibility and waiting for others to reduce their carbon emissions wastes precious time, time that we simply do not have. 

Decarbonising our lives is everybody’s business.  Governments, industries communities and every household needs to do everything within their capacity to stop releasing carbon into the atmosphere.  Per capita, Australians contribute more to the problem than every other OECD country.

 Contrary to the scare tactics, moving away from fossil fuel based economy can lead to a better, more fruitful, and healthier life than we have today. Cities promoting effective public transport systems and active transport, where people walk and cycle more, have cleaner air, more green spaces for recreation and this improves mental health.”  

[On baseline scenarios, those without additional mitigation, result in global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 from 3.7 to 4.8oC compared to pre-industrial levels  (the range is 2.5°C to 7.8°C when including climate uncertainty)] 

“We have been tracking along the higher end of this range, and increasing rates of emissions guarantees us future high levels of warming. We must stop. This warming is not compatible with human existence. 

These figures of average warming  are not the full story. From a health perspective, it is the weather extremes that this brings. On average,  Australia has warmed less than one degree, and this have delivered already record heat waves, temperature over 46 degrees in our major cities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II report makes the situation quite clear. The scale and pace of climate change puts humanity into clear and evident danger.  

[On delaying mitigation efforts beyond those in place today 1 through 2030 is estimated to substantially 2 increase the difficulty of the transition to low longer‐term emissions levels and narrow the range 3 of options consistent with maintaining temperature change below 2°C relative to pre‐industrial 4 levels (high confidence) and delaying additional 24 mitigation further increases mitigation costs in the medium to long term (Table SPM.2, blue 5 segment). Many models could not achieve atmospheric concentration levels of about 450 ppm 26 CO2eq by 2100 if additional mitigation is considerably delayed or under limited availability of key 27 technologies, such as bioenergy, CCS, and their combination (BECCS).]

 “Delaying strong mitigation efforts lowers the likelihood that warming could be curtailed at 2 degrees. This wilful disregard for human safety should be recognised for what it is, short term gain at the expense of a collective future in a world that is habitable. 

Delay also incurs increasingly prohibitive mitigation costs. Combined, these subject todays’ children and young adults to a world where governments must spend more to mitigate, at a time when more extreme weather events necessitate higher costs on repairing infrastructure, and relocating vital services away from coastlines. Diminished funds will be available for health and education and nation building.  

Prompt action is an economic imperative, and a moral imperative.”


Alan Pears is an Adjunct Professor at RMIT in the school of Global, Urban and Social Studies

“This is a very important report. It goes beyond the climate science and adaptation issues to focus on ways of responding to climate change by cutting emissions and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

A few issues discussed by the report summary have been confused in some media reports to date:

  • The cost of limiting climate change

A number of media reports have noted that the this report suggests the cost of reducing emissions would be up to 6 percent of global GDP by 2050. But this is 6 percent of one year’s global GDP spread over several decades. The paper notes that the annual impact on economic growth would be around 0.1 percent each year, compared with expected growth of 1.5 to 3 percent (see page 17 lines 6-23). That is, this cost would be ‘in the noise’.

Second, this cost estimate places zero value on multiple benefits of many abatement options, such as improved productivity and so on, especially for end-use efficiency measures (page 19 lines 18-19). Further, it ignores the enormous savings resulting from the reduced impacts of storms, fires and other outcomes of uncontrolled climate change. As Prof Ross Garnaut showed in his original 2008 review of climate change, these benefits outweigh the costs of change. Garnaut also pointed out that it was not possible to estimate the costs of some climate impacts, so his conclusion was conservative.

So the IPCC’s estimate is not a cost-benefit analysis, but simply an estimate of the costs of response without considering the benefits. Even so, the response cost is so small that it will be almost impossible to measure, given the other factors that influence economic growth.”


Amanda McKenzie is the Chief Executive Officer of the Climate Council

“Renewable energy is critical to tackling climate change. Australians have already taken steps to increase renewable energy and this report shows we need to do more. It’s clear that the renewables race has begun.

Shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy is a key part of tackling climate change and has other benefits, for instance growing new jobs, industries and investment. Australians know that solar power is just common sense here, so there is a lot of community support for greater investment in renewables.

On the other side of the ledger, Australia is also home to some very inefficient and aging coal fired power plants. That means our current electricity supply is one of the most emissions intensive and least efficient in the world.”


Comments from Australian experts who contributed to the report:

Professor David Stern is from the Crawford School of Public Policy at the The Australian National University and a lead author of Chapter 5: Trends, Drivers, and Mitigation

“Over the last four decades, per capita emissions from all sources – energy use, land-clearing etc – declined in both the poorest and the richest countries but rose in middle income countries. Because of population growth, total emissions rose in all regions. Total emissions from developing countries (low and middle income) now exceed those from the developed countries.

Global greenhouse gas emissions rose more rapidly between 2000 and 2010 than in the previous three decades and this is mainly because of rapid growth in emissions in middle income countries like China. The decline in per capita emissions in low-income countries is because of a reduction in per capita emissions from agriculture and land-clearing and an absolute reduction in those emissions in the decade 2000 to 2010.

However, per capita emissions remain very unequal globally with emissions per capita in high-income countries averaging nine times the level in the lowest income countries. This means that there is a lot of scope for “catch-up growth” in emissions under business as usual and points to the need to switch to low carbon energy sources as soon as possible. This is because the majority of emissions are derived from energy use and energy efficiency improvements have historically been insufficient to offset the growth in income per capita let alone population growth, especially in the decade 2000 to 2010.”


Professor Richard Harper is Chair in Sustainable Water Management, Leader of Agriculture at Murdoch University, WA and a lead author on Chapter 11: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land-Uses (AFOLU)

“The new report from the IPCC’s Working Group III contains a chapter on the land sector – Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses. This clearly outlines how the land both contributes to global emissions, but also provides some real options for emissions management. 

Basically, there are three ways the land can contribute to carbon management – by reducing emissions from existing carbon stocks (e.g. clearing forests) or agricultural activities, by increasing carbon stocks in soils or vegetation (carbon sinks), or by replacing fossil fuel emissions by burning biomass or using wood products. 

The report considers each of these options, and in particular the opportunities that may arise and also the trade-offs. For example, reducing the rate of deforestation can protect biodiversity, planting trees on farmland can improve water supplies, applying nitrogen fertilizers more efficiently can reduce both emissions into the air and water ways. However, with an increasing global population that will demand more food per capita and future climate change itself, a challenge is to ensure that these measures complement, rather than displace food production.