Climate change mitigation

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Climate change mitigation involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions or removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.[1]: 2239  The main goal of climate change mitigation is to limit global warming.[2]: 1–64  The use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) for energy, as well as agriculture and land use, certain industrial processes like cement production,[3] and deforestation increase the concentration of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide and methane.[4] Greenhouse gas concentration can be reduced by conserving energy and by switching to clean energy. Solar and wind energy are among clean energy substitutes for fossil fuels in electricity production.[5] Variable availability of sunshine and wind is addressed by energy storage and improved electrical grids, including long-distance electricity transmission, demand management and diversification of renewables. As low-emission energy is more widely available, transportation and heating can increasingly rely on these sources.[6]: 1  Energy efficiency is improved using heat pumps and electric vehicles. If industrial processes must create carbon dioxide, carbon capture and storage reduces net emissions.[3]

Methane has more short-term impact as a greenhouse gas than much longer-lived carbon dioxide gas. Methane, which is mainly released during fossil fuel production and by agriculture, can be reduced by limiting dairy product and meat production.[7] Carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere through afforestation, reforestation, carbon sequestration and direct air capture.

Climate change mitigation policies include: carbon pricing by carbon taxes and carbon emission trading, easing regulations for renewable energy deployment, reductions of fossil fuel subsidies, and divestment from fossil fuel finance, and subsidies for clean energy.[8] Current policies are estimated to produce global warming of about 2.7 °C by 2100.[9] This warming is significantly above the 2015 Paris Agreement's goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 °C and preferably to 1.5 °C.[10][11]

Overview[edit]

Global greenhouse gas emission scenarios, based on policies and pledges as of 11/21

Definition[edit]

The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report defines climate change mitigation as "A human intervention to reduce emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases".[1]: 2239 

In contrast solar radiation management only limits global warming rather than climate change as a whole (for example it does not limit ocean acidification), and is almost[12] never described as climate mitigation but is said to be categorically different.[13]

Goals[edit]

The overall goal of climate change mitigation is: "to preserve a biosphere which can sustain human civilization and the complex of ecosystem services which surround and support it. This means reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions towards net zero to limit the warming, with global goals agreed in the Paris Agreement."[2]: 1–64 

Co-benefits[edit]

There are also co-benefits of climate change mitigation. For example, in the transport sector, possible co-benefits of mitigation strategies include: air quality improvements, health benefits,[14] equitable access to transportation services, reduced traffic congestion, and reduced material demand.[15]: SPM-41  The increased use of green and blue infrastructure can reduce the urban heat island effect and heat stress on people, which will improve the mental and physical health of urban dwellers.[16]: TS-66  Climate change mitigation might also lead to less inequality and poverty.[17]

Mitigation measures may have many health co-benefits – potential measures can not only mitigate future health impacts from climate change but also improve health directly.[18] Globally the cost of limiting warming to 2 °C is less than the value of the extra years of life due to cleaner air - and in India and China much less.[19] Air quality improvement is a near-term benefit among the many societal benefits from climate change mitigation, including substantial health benefits. Studies suggest that demand-side climate change mitigation solutions have largely beneficial effects on 18 constituents of well-being.[20][21]

Risks and negative side effects[edit]

Mitigation measures can also have negative side effects. This is highly context-specific and can also depend on the scale of the intervention.[16]: TS-133  In agriculture and forestry, mitigation measures can affect biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.[16]: TS-87  In the area of renewable energies, mining for metals and minerals can increase mining threats to conservation areas.[22] To address one of these issues, there is research into ways to recycle solar panels and electronic waste in order to create a source for materials that would otherwise need to be mined.[23][24]

Discussions about risks and negative side effects of mitigation measures can "lead to deadlock or a sense that there are intractable obstacles to taking action".[24]

Approaches[edit]

refer to caption and adjacent text
If CO2 emissions would only stop growing this would not stabilize the GHG concentration in the atmosphere.[25]
refer to caption and adjacent text
Stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 at a constant level would require emissions to be effectively eliminated.[25]

Climate change mitigation is all about reducing and recapturing greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases are primarily carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases.[15]: Figure SPM.1 

The approaches that are being used fall into the following categories:

Although there is no single pathway to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 °C,[26] most scenarios and strategies see a major increase in the use of renewable energy in combination with increased energy efficiency measures to generate the needed greenhouse gas reductions.[27] To reduce pressures on ecosystems and enhance their carbon sequestration capabilities, changes would also be necessary in agriculture and forestry,[28] such as preventing deforestation and restoring natural ecosystems by reforestation.[29] Scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5 °C typically project the large-scale use of carbon dioxide removal methods over the 21st century.[30][better source needed] There are concerns, though, about over-reliance on these technologies, and environmental impacts.[31]

Timescales[edit]

Tools for mitigation vary in the timescales needed for them to have an impact on emissions.[32] For example most countries can rapidly implement solar or wind power as they are mature technologies,[33] which allows coal-fired powers plant to be retired[34] or fewer gas-fired power plants to be built (exceptions may include Russia as gas is so cheap there).[35] The mitigation tools that can yield the most emissions reductions in the short time remaining before 2030 are solar energy, reduced conversion of forests and other ecosystems, wind energy, carbon sequestration in agriculture, followed by the group of ecosystem restoration, afforestation, and reforestation.[15]: 50  Elimination of certain other sources of emissions, such as those during cement production,[3] will require research, technology development, and conversion or replacement of facilities, and therefore will take much longer.

Greenhouse gas emissions[edit]

2020 Worldwide CO2 emissions (by region, per capita); variwide diagram

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities strengthen the greenhouse effect, contributing to climate change. Most is carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. Human-caused emissions have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by about 50% over pre-industrial levels. Emissions in the 2010s averaged 56 billion tons a year, higher than ever before.[36]

Accounting of greenhouse gas emissions by sector can be done in different ways. An established method by Our World in Data groups them as follows (data for 2016): Energy (electricity, heat and transport): 73.2%, direct industrial processes: 5.2%, waste: 3.2%, agriculture, forestry and land use: 18.4%.[4]

Electricity generation and transport are major emitters, the largest single source being coal-fired power stations with 20% of GHG.[37] Deforestation and other changes in land use also emit carbon dioxide and methane. The largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions is agriculture,[citation needed] closely followed by gas venting and fugitive emissions from the fossil-fuel industry. The largest agricultural methane source is livestock. Agricultural soils emit nitrous oxide partly due to fertilizers. The problem of fluorinated gases from refrigerants has been politically solved now so many countries have ratified the Kigali Amendment.[38]

Current emission rates are on average 6.5 tonnes per person per year (with large variations from one country to another).[39]

By type of greenhouse gas[edit]

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the dominant emitted greenhouse gas, while methane (CH4) emissions almost have the same short-term impact.[40] Nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases (F-Gases) play a minor role.

Fugitive emissions from the fossil fuel industry are estimated to have been the largest source of methane in 2021.[41] The largest agricultural methane source is livestock. Livestock and manure are 5.8% of all GHG emissions,[4] although this depends on the time horizon used for the global warming potential of the respective gas. It can be reduced by reductions in dairy products and meat consumption.[7][42]

GHG emissions are measured in CO2 equivalents determined by their global warming potential (GWP), which depends on their lifetime in the atmosphere. There are widely-used greenhouse gas accounting methods that convert volumes of methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases to carbon dioxide equivalents. Estimations largely depend on the ability of oceans and land sinks to absorb these gases. Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) including methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), tropospheric ozone and black carbon persist in the atmosphere for a period ranging from days to 15 years; whereas carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for millennia.[43]

Needed emissions cuts[edit]

The annual "Emissions Gap Report" by UNEP stated in 2022: "To get on track for limiting global warming to 1.5°C, global annual GHG emissions must be reduced by 45 per cent compared with emissions projections under policies currently in place in just eight years, and they must continue to decline rapidly after 2030, to avoid exhausting the limited remaining atmospheric carbon budget."[44]: xvi  The report also points out that the world should focus on "broad-based economy-wide transformations" instead of focusing on incremental change.[44]: xvi 

In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Sixth Assessment Report on climate change, warning that greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030, in order to likely limit global warming to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F).[45][46] Secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, clarified that for this "Main emitters must drastically cut emissions starting this year".[47]

Emissions and economic growth[edit]

Economic growth is a key driver of CO2 emissions.[48]: 707 [better source needed][49] As the economy expands, demand for energy and energy-intensive goods increases, pushing up CO2 emissions. On the other hand, economic growth may drive technological change and increase energy efficiency. Economic growth may be associated with specialization in certain economic sectors. If specialization is in energy-intensive sectors, specifically carbon energy sources, then there will be a strong link between economic growth and emissions growth. If specialization is in less energy-intensive sectors, e.g. the services sector, then there might be a weak link between economic growth and emissions growth.

Much of the literature focuses on the "environmental Kuznets curve" (EKC) hypothesis, which posits that at early stages of development, pollution per capita and GDP per capita move in the same direction. Beyond a certain income level, emissions per capita will decrease as GDP per capita increase, thus generating an inverted-U shaped relationship between GDP per capita and pollution. However, the econometrics literature did not support either an optimistic interpretation of the EKC hypothesis – i.e., that the problem of emissions growth will solve itself – or a pessimistic interpretation – i.e., that economic growth is irrevocably linked to emissions growth.[48] Instead, it was suggested that there was some degree of flexibility between economic growth and emissions growth.[50]

Energy systems[edit]

Coal, oil, and natural gas remain the primary global energy sources even as renewables have begun rapidly increasing.[51]

The energy system, which includes the use and delivery of energy, is the main emitter of CO2.[52]: 6–6  Reducing energy sector emissions is therefore essential to limit warming.[52]: 6–6  Rapid and deep reductions in the CO2 and GHG emissions from energy system are needed to limit global warming to well below 2 °C.[52]: 6–3  Recommended measures includes: "reduced fossil fuel consumption, increased production from low- and zero carbon energy sources, and increased use of electricity and alternative energy carriers".[52]: 6–3 

Wind and solar power are outcompeting coal, oil and gas in energy production

The competitiveness of renewable energy is a key to a rapid deployment. In 2020, onshore wind and solar photovoltaics were the cheapest source for new bulk electricity generation in many regions.[53] Storage requirements cause additional costs. A carbon price can increase the competitiveness of renewable energy.

Low-carbon energy sources[edit]

Wind and sun can be sources for large amounts of low-carbon energy at competitive production costs. But even in combination, generation of variable renewable energy fluctuates a lot. This can be tackled by extending grids over large areas with a sufficient capacity or by using energy storage (see also: forms of grid energy storage) and by other means. Load management of industrial energy consumption can help to balance the production of renewable energy production and its demand. Electricity production by biogas and hydro power can follow the energy demand. Both can be driven by variable energy prices.

The deployment of renewable energy would have to be accelerated six-fold though to stay under the 2 °C target.[54]

Solar energy[edit]

The 150 MW Andasol solar power station is a commercial parabolic trough solar thermal power plant, located in Spain. The Andasol plant uses tanks of molten salt to store solar energy so that it can continue generating electricity for 7.5 hours after the sun has stopped shining.[55]

Wind power[edit]

The Shepherds Flat Wind Farm is an 845 megawatt (MW) nameplate capacity, wind farm in the US state of Oregon, each turbine is a nameplate 2 or 2.5 MW electricity generator.

Regions in the higher northern and southern latitudes have the highest potential for wind power.[58] Offshore wind power currently has a share of about 10% of new installations.[59] Offshore wind farms are more expensive but the units deliver more energy per installed capacity with less fluctuations. In most regions, wind power generation is higher in the winter when PV output is low. For this reason, combinations of wind and solar power are recommended.

Hydro power[edit]

The 22,500 MW nameplate capacity Three Gorges Dam in the People's Republic of China, the largest hydroelectric power station in the world

Hydroelectricity plays a leading role in countries like Brazil, Norway and China.[60] but there are geographical limits and environmental issues.[61] Tidal power can be used in coastal regions.

Bioenergy[edit]

Biogas plants can provide dispatchable electricity generation, and heat when needed.[62] A common concept is the co-fermentation of energy crops mixed with manure in agriculture. Burning plant-derived biomass releases CO2, but it has still been classified as a renewable energy source in the EU and UN legal frameworks because photosynthesis cycles the CO2 back into new crops. How a fuel is produced, transported and processed has a significant impact on lifecycle emissions.[63] Renewable biofuels are starting to be used in aviation.

Other low-carbon energy sources[edit]

Nuclear power[edit]

A comparison of price changes for energy from nuclear fission and from other sources

In most 1.5 °C pathways of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C the share of nuclear power is increased.[64] The main advantage of nuclear energy is the ability to deliver large amounts of base load when renewable energy is not available.[65]

On the other hand, environmental and security risks could outweigh the benefits.[66][67][68][69] The Fukushima disaster is estimated to cost taxpayers ~$187 billion[70] and radioactive waste management is estimated to cost the EU ~$250 billion by 2050.[71]

The construction of new nuclear reactors currently takes about 10 years, substantially longer than scaling up the deployment of wind and solar. The largest drawback of nuclear energy is often considered to be the large construction costs when compared to alternatives of sustainable energy sources whose costs are decreasing and which are the fastest-growing source of electricity generation.[72][73][74][75] Nuclear power avoided 2–3% of total global GHG emissions in 2021. China is building a significant number of new power plants, albeit significantly fewer reactors than originally planned. As of 2019 the cost of extending nuclear power plant lifetimes is competitive with other electricity generation technologies, including new solar and wind projects.[76] New projects are reported to be highly dependent on public subsidies.[77]

Nuclear fusion research, in the form of the ITER and other experimental projects, is underway but fusion energy is not likely to be commercially widespread before 2050.[78][79][80]

Natural gas for fossil fuel switching[edit]

Switching from coal to natural gas has advantages in terms of sustainability. For a given unit of energy produced, the life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of natural gas are around 40 times the emissions of wind or nuclear energy but are much less than coal. Natural gas produces around half the emissions of coal when used to generate electricity and around two-thirds the emissions of coal when used to produce heat. Reducing methane leaks in the process of extracting and transporting natural gas could further decrease its climate impact.[81] Natural gas produces less air pollution than coal.[82]

Switching from coal to natural gas reduces emissions in the short term and thus contributes to climate change mitigation. However, in the long term it does not provide a path to net-zero emissions. Developing natural gas infrastructure risks carbon lock-in and stranded assets, where new fossil infrastructure either commits to decades of carbon emissions, or has to be written off before it makes a profit.[83][84]

Energy storage[edit]

Wind energy and photovoltaics can deliver large amounts of electric energy but not at any time and place. One approach is the conversation into storable forms of energy. This generally leads to losses in efficiency.

For storage requirements up to a few days, pumped hydro (PHES), compressed air (CAES) and Li-on batteries are most cost effective depending on charging rhythm. For 2040, a more significant role for Li-on and hydrogen is projected.[85] Li-on batteries are widely used in battery storage power stations and are starting to be used in vehicle-to-grid storage.[86] They provide a sufficient round-trip efficiency of 75–90 %.[87] Their production can cause environmental problems.[88] Levelized costs for battery storage have drastically fallen.[53]

Hydrogen may be useful for seasonal energy storage.[89] Thermal energy in the conversion process can be used for district heating. The concept of solar hydrogen is discussed for remote desert projects where grid connections to demand centers are not available.[90] Because it has more energy per unit volume sometimes it may be better to use hydrogen in ammonia.[91]

Energy grids[edit]

Sketch of a possible super grid. The red squares represent the total surfaces needed for solar collectors of Concentrating Solar Thermal Power (CSP) plants to provide the present electricity demands.

Long-distance power lines help to minimize storage requirements. A continental transmission network can smoothen local variations of wind energy. With a global grid, even photovoltaics could be available all day and night. The strongest high-voltage direct current (HVDC) connections are quoted with losses of only 1.6% per 1000 km[92] with a clear advantage compared to alternating current (AC) grids. HVDC is currently only used for point-to-point connections. Meshed HVDC grids may be used to connect offshore wind in future.[93]

A super grid in the US in combination with renewable energy could reduce GHG emissions by 80%.[94]

Electricity demand management[edit]

Instead of expanding grids and storage for more power, electricity demand can be adjusted on the consumer side. This can flatten demand peaks. Traditionally, the energy system has treated consumer demand as fixed. Instead, data systems can combine with advanced software to manage demand and respond to energy market prices.[95]

Time of use tariffs are a common way to motivate electricity users to reduce their peak load consumption. On a household level, charging electric vehicles or running heat pumps combined with hot water storage when wind or sun energy are available reduces electricity costs.

Demand response devices can receive all sorts of messages from the grid. The message could be a request to use a low power mode, to shut off entirely during a sudden failure on the grid, or notifications about the current and expected prices for power. This allows electric cars to recharge at the least expensive rates independent of the time of day. Vehicle-to-grid uses a car's battery to supply the grid temporarily.[96][97]

Energy conservation and efficiency[edit]

Global primary energy demand exceeded 161,000 TWh in 2018.[98] This refers to electricity, transport and heating including all losses. In transport and electricity production, fossil fuel usage has a low efficiency of less than 50%. Large amounts of heat in power plants and in motors of vehicles are wasted. The actual amount of energy consumed is significantly lower at 116,000 TWh.[99]

Energy conservation is the effort made to reduce the consumption of energy by using less of an energy service. This can be achieved either by using energy more efficiently (using less energy for a constant service) or by reducing the amount of service used (for example, by driving less). Energy conservation is at the top of the sustainable energy hierarchy.[100] Energy can be conserved by reducing wastage and losses, improving efficiency through technological upgrades, and improved operations and maintenance.

Efficient energy use, sometimes simply called energy efficiency, is the process of reducing the amount of energy required to provide products and services. Improved energy efficiency in buildings ("green buildings"), industrial processes and transportation could reduce the world's energy needs in 2050 by one third, and thus help reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases.[101] For example, insulating a building allows it to use less heating and cooling energy to achieve and maintain thermal comfort. Improvements in energy efficiency are generally achieved by adopting a more efficient technology or production process[102] or by application of commonly accepted methods to reduce energy losses.

Mitigation approaches by sector[edit]

Buildings[edit]

The buildings sector accounts for 23% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.[103] About half of the energy is used for space and water heating.[104] Building insulation can reduce the primary energy demand significantly. Efficient electric heating and cooling loads may also provide a flexible resource that can participate in demand response to integrate variable renewable resources into the grid. Solar water heating uses the thermal energy directly. Sufficiency measures include moving to smaller houses when the needs of households change, mixed use of spaces and the collective use of devices.[16]: 71  New buildings can be constructed using passive solar building design, low-energy building, or zero-energy building techniques.In addition, it is possible to design buildings that are more energy-efficient to cool by using lighter-coloured, more reflective materials in the development of urban areas.

Heat pumps[edit]

Outside unit of an air source heat pump

Heat pumps are an example of electrified heating with high efficiency. A modern heat pump typically produces around three to five times more thermal energy than electrical energy consumed, depending on the coefficient of performance and the outside temperature.[105] It uses an electrically driven compressor that extracts heat energy from outdoor air or ground sources and moves that heat to the space to be warmed. In the summer months, the cycle can be reversed for air conditioning.

Cooling[edit]

Refrigeration and air conditioning account for about 10% of global CO2 emissions caused by fossil fuel-based energy production and the use of fluorinated gases. Alternative cooling systems, such as passive cooling building design and installing passive daytime radiative cooling surfaces, can reduce air conditioning use. Suburbs and cities in hot and arid climates can significantly reduce energy consumption from cooling with daytime radiative cooling.[106]

The energy consumption for cooling is expected to rise significantly due to increasing heat and availability of devices in poorer countries. Of the 2.8 billion people living in the hottest parts of the world, only 8% currently have air conditioners, compared with 90% of people in the US and Japan.[107] By combining energy efficiency improvements with the transition away from super-polluting refrigerants, the world could avoid cumulative greenhouse gas emissions of up to 210–460 GtCO2e over the next four decades. [108] A shift to renewable energy in the cooling sector comes with two advantages: Solar energy production with mid-day peaks corresponds with the load required for cooling. Additionally, cooling has a large potential for load management in the electric grid.

Cities[edit]

Bicycles have almost no carbon footprint compared to cars.[109]

Cities have big potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They emitted 28 GtCO2-eq in 2020 of combined CO2 and CH4 emissions.[16]: TS-61  This was "through the production and consumption of goods and services".[16]: TS-61  Climate-smart urban planning aims to reduce sprawl to reduce the distance travelled, thus lowering emissions from transportation. It supports mixed use of space, transit, walking, cycling, sharing vehicles can reduce urban emissions. Urban forestry, lakes and other blue and green infrastructure can reduce emissions directly and indirectly by reduced energy demand for cooling.[16]: TS-66  Personal cars are extremely inefficient at moving passengers, while public transport and bicycles are many times more efficient in an urban context. Switching from cars by improving walkability and cycling infrastructure is either free or beneficial to a country's economy as a whole.[110]

Transport[edit]

Transportation emissions account for 15% of emissions worldwide.[111] Increasing the use of public transport, low-carbon freight transport and cycling are important components of transport decarbonization.[112][113]

Electric vehicles and environmentally friendly rail help to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. In most cases, electric trains are more efficient than air transport and truck transport.[114] Other efficiency means include improved public transport, smart mobility, carsharing and electric hybrids. Fossil-fuel powered passenger cars can be converted to electric propulsion. The production of alternative fuel without GHG emissions is only possible with high conversion losses. Furthermore, moving away from a car-dominated transport system towards low-carbon advanced public transport system is important.[115]

Heavyweight, large personal vehicles (such as cars) require a lot of energy to move and take up much urban space.[116][117] Several alternatives modes of transport are available to replace these. The European Union has made smart mobility part of its European Green Deal[118] and in smart cities, smart mobility is also important.[119]

Electric vehicles[edit]

Between a quarter and three-quarters of cars on the road by 2050 are forecast to be electric vehicles. EVs use 38 megajoules per 100 km in comparison to 142 megajoules per 100 km for ICE cars.[120] Hydrogen can be a solution for long-distance transport by trucks and hydrogen-powered ships where batteries alone are too heavy.[121][122]

GHG emissions depend on the amount of green energy being used for battery or fuel cell production and charging. In a system mainly based on electricity from fossil fuels, emissions of electric vehicles can even exceed those of diesel combustion.[123]

Shipping[edit]

In the shipping industry, the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a marine bunker fuel is driven by emissions regulations. Ship operators have to switch from heavy fuel oil to more expensive oil-based fuels, implement costly flue gas treatment technologies or switch to LNG engines.[124] Methane slip, when gas leaks unburned through the engine, lowers the advantages of LNG. Maersk, the largest container shipping line and vessel operator in the world, warns of stranded assets when investing into transitional fuels like LNG.[125] The company lists green ammonia as one of the preferred fuel types of the future and has announced the first carbon-neutral vessel on the water by 2023, running on carbon-neutral methanol.[126]

Hybrid and all electric ferries are suitable for short distances. Norway's goal is an all electric fleet by 2025.[127] The E-ferry Ellen, which was developed in an EU-backed project, is in operation in Denmark.

Air travel[edit]

Between 1940 and 2018, aviation CO2 emissions grew from 0.7% to 2.65% of all CO2 emissions.[128]

Jet airliners contribute to climate change by emitting carbon dioxide (CO2), the best understood greenhouse gas, and, with less scientific understanding, nitrogen oxides, contrails and particulates. Their radiative forcing is estimated at 1.3–1.4 that of CO2 alone, excluding induced cirrus cloud with a very low level of scientific understanding. In 2018, global commercial operations generated 2.4% of all CO2 emissions.[129]

While the aviation industry is more fuel efficient, overall emissions have risen as the volume of air travel has increased. By 2020, aviation emissions were 70% higher than in 2005 and they could grow by 300% by 2050.[130]

Aviation's environmental footprint can be reduced by better fuel economy in aircraft or Air Traffic Control and flight routes can be optimized to lower non-CO2 effects on climate from NO
x
, particulates or contrails. Aviation biofuel, emissions trading and carbon offsetting, part of the ICAO's CORSIA, can lower CO2 emissions. Aviation usage can be lowered by short-haul flight bans, train connections, personal choices and aviation taxation and subsidies. Fuel-powered aircraft may be replaced by hybrid electric aircraft and electric aircraft or by hydrogen-powered aircraft.

In aviation, current 180 Mt of CO2 emissions (11% of emissions in transport) are expected to rise in most projections, at least until 2040. Aviation biofuel and hydrogen can only cover a small proportion of flights in the coming years. The market entry for hybrid-driven aircraft on regional scheduled flights is projected after 2030, for battery-powered aircraft after 2035.[131] In October 2016, the 191 nations of the ICAO established the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), requiring operators to purchase carbon offsets to cover their emissions above 2020 levels, starting from 2021. This is voluntary until 2027.

Agriculture[edit]

As 25% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are from agriculture and land use, it is impossible to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees without addressing the emissions from agriculture.

With 21% of the global methane emissions, cattle are a major driver on global warming.[132]: 6  When rainforests are cut and the land is converted for grazing, the impact is even higher. This results in up to 335 kg CO2eq emissions for the production of 1 kg beef in Brazil when using a 30-year time horizon.[133] Other livestock, manure management and rice cultivation also produce relevant GHG emissions, in addition to fossil fuel combustion in agriculture.

Investment in improving and scaling up the production of dairy and meat alternatives leads to big greenhouse gas reductions compared with other investments.[134] Also, photovoltaic-driven microbial protein production could use 10 times less land for an equivalent amount of protein compared to soybean cultivation.[135]

Agricultural changes may require complementary laws and policies to drive and support dietary shifts, including changes in pet food,[136] increases in organic food products,[137][138][139] and substantial reductions of meat-intake (food miles usually do not play a large role).[140][141][142]

Important mitigation options for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from livestock include genetic selection,[143][144] introduction of methanotrophic bacteria into the rumen,[145][146] vaccines, feeds,[147] toilet-training,[148] diet modification and grazing management.[149][150][151] Other options include just using ruminant-free alternatives instead, such as milk substitutes and meat analogues. Non-ruminant livestock, such as poultry, emits far less.[152]

In the United States, soils account for about half of agricultural GHGs while agriculture, forestry and other land use emits 24%.[153] The US EPA says soil management practices that can reduce the emissions of nitrous oxide (N
2
O
) from soils include fertilizer usage, irrigation, and tillage.

Methane emissions in rice cultivation can be cut by implementing an improved water management, combining dry seeding and one drawdown, or a perfect execution of a sequence of wetting and drying. This results in emission reductions of up to 90% compared to full flooding and even increased yields.[154]

Industry[edit]

Methane leaks[edit]

In the early 2020s some governments recognized the scale of the problem and introduced regulations.[155] Methane leaks at oil and gas wells and processing plants are cost-effective to fix in countries which can easily trade gas internationally.[156] There are leaks in Iran[157] and Turkmenistan,[158] where gas is cheap. Gas flares do not always burn all the methane.[159] As of 2022 neither Russia, Turkmenistan nor Iran have joined the global methane pledge, although Iraq has done so.[160]

The operator of a coal mine in Russia which leaked a lot of methane has not said what they are doing about it as of 2022.[161]

Cement production[edit]

Bioconcrete is one possibility,[162] but because no technology for mitigation is mature yet CCS will be needed at least in the short-term.[163]

Iron and steel production[edit]

Blast furnaces could be replaced by hydrogen direct reduced iron and electric arc furnaces.[164]

Waste management[edit]

Improving waste management is often the responsibility of local government.[165]

Preserving and enhancing carbon sinks[edit]

About 58% of CO2 emissions have been absorbed by carbon sinks, including plant growth, soil uptake, and ocean uptake (2020 Global Carbon Budget).
World protected area map with total percentage of each country under protection, where countries in lighter colors have more protected land

Terminology[edit]

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is defined as "Anthropogenic activities removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and durably storing it in geological, terrestrial, or ocean reservoirs, or in products. It includes existing and potential anthropogenic enhancement of biological or geochemical CO2 sinks and direct air carbon dioxide capture and storage (DACCS), but excludes natural CO2 uptake not directly caused by human activities."[1]

The terminology in this area is still evolving. The term “geoengineering” (or climate engineering) is sometimes used in the scientific literature for both CDR (carbon dioxide removal) or SRM (solar radiation management or solar geoengineering), if the techniques are used at a global scale.[2]: 6–11  The terms geoengineering or climate engineering are no longer used in IPCC reports.[1]

Land-based mitigation options are referred to as "AFOLU mitigation options" in the 2022 IPCC report on mitigation. The abbreviation stands for "agriculture, forestry and other land use"[15]: 37  The report described the economic mitigation potential from relevant activities around forests and ecosystems as follows: "the conservation, improved management, and restoration of forests and other ecosystems (coastal wetlands, peatlands, savannas and grasslands)". A high mitigation potential is found for reducing deforestation in tropical regions. The economic potential of these activities has been estimated to be 4.2 to 7.4 Giga tons of CO2 equivalents per year.[15]: 37 

Forests[edit]

Conservation[edit]

Transferring land rights to indigenous inhabitants is argued to efficiently conserve forests.

About 95% of deforestation occurs in the tropics, where it is mostly driven by the clearing of land for agriculture.[166]

Transferring rights over land from public domain to its indigenous inhabitants, who have had a stake for millennia in preserving the forests that they depend on, is argued to be a cost-effective strategy to conserve forests.[167] This includes the protection of such rights entitled in existing laws, such as the Forest Rights Act in India, where concessions to land continue to go mostly to powerful companies.[167] The transferring of such rights in China, perhaps the largest land reform in modern times, has been argued to have increased forest cover.[168][169] Granting title of the land has shown to have two or three times less clearing than even state run parks, notably in the Brazilian Amazon. Even while the largest cause of deforestation in the world's second largest rainforest in the Congo is smallholder agriculture and charcoal production, areas with community concessions have significantly less deforestation as communities are incentivized to manage the land sustainably, even reducing poverty.[170] Conservation methods that exclude humans, called "fortress conservation", and even evict inhabitants from protected areas often lead to more exploitation of the land as the native inhabitants then turn to work for extractive companies to survive.[168]

Afforestation[edit]

Afforestation is the establishment of trees where there was previously no tree cover. Scenarios for new plantations covering up to 4000 Mha (6300 x 6300 km) calculate with a cumulative physical carbon biosequestration of more than 900 GtC (2300 GtCO2) until 2100.[171] However, these are not considered a viable alternative to aggressive emissions reduction,[172] as the plantations would need to be so large, they would eliminate most natural ecosystems or reduce food production.[173] One example is the Trillion Tree Campaign.[174][175]

Restoration[edit]

Helping existing roots and tree stumps regrow even in long deforested areas is argued to be more efficient than planting trees. Lack of legal ownership to trees by locals is the biggest obstacle preventing regrowth.[176][177]

Reforestation is the restocking of existing depleted forests or where there was once recently forests. Reforestation could save at least 1 GtCO2/year, at an estimated cost of $5–15/tCO2.[178] Restoring all degraded forests all over the world could capture about 205 GtC (750 GtCO2).[179] With increased intensive agriculture and urbanization, there is an increase in the amount of abandoned farmland. By some estimates, for every acre of original old-growth forest cut down, more than 50 acres of new secondary forests are growing.[180][181] Promoting regrowth on abandoned farmland could offset years of carbon emissions.[182][183]

Planting new trees can be expensive, especially for the poor who often live in areas of deforestation, and can be a risky investment as, for example, studies in the Sahel have found that 80 percent of planted trees die within two years.[176] Instead, helping native species sprout naturally is much cheaper and more likely to survive, with even long deforested areas still containing an "underground forest" of living roots and tree stumps that are still able to regenerate. This could include pruning and coppicing the tree to accelerate its growth and that also provides woodfuel, which is otherwise a major source of deforestation. Such practices, called farmer-managed natural regeneration, are centuries old but the biggest obstacle towards implementing natural regrowth of trees are legal ownership of the trees by the state, often as a way of selling such timber rights to business people, leading to seedlings being uprooted by locals who saw them as a liability. Legal aid for locals[184][185] and pressure to change the law such as in Mali and Niger where ownership of trees to residents was allowed has led to what has been called the largest positive environmental transformation in Africa, with it being possible to discern from space the border between Niger and the more barren land in Nigeria, where the law has not changed.[176][177]

Proforestation is promoting forests to capture their full ecological potential.[186] This is a mitigation strategy as secondary forests that have regrown in abandoned farmland are found to have less biodiversity than the original old-growth forests and original forests store 60% more carbon than these new forests.[180] Strategies include rewilding and establishing wildlife corridors.[187][188]

Soils[edit]

Globally, protecting healthy soils and restoring the soil carbon sponge could remove 7.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, which is more than the annual emissions of the US.[189][190] Trees capture CO2 while growing above ground and exuding larger amounts of carbon below ground. Trees contribute to the building of a soil carbon sponge. The carbon formed above ground is released as CO2 immediately when wood is burned. If dead wood remains untouched, only some of the carbon returns to the atmosphere as decomposition proceeds.[189]

Farming methods[edit]

Methods that enhance carbon sequestration in soil include no-till farming, residue mulching and crop rotation, all of which are more widely used in organic farming than in conventional farming.[191][192] Because only 5% of US farmland currently uses no-till and residue mulching, there is a large potential for carbon sequestration.[193][194]

Farming can deplete soil carbon and render soil incapable of supporting life. However, conservation farming can protect carbon in soils, and repair damage over time.[195] The farming practice of cover crops has been recognized as climate-smart agriculture.[196] Best management practices for European soils were described to increase soil organic carbon: conversion of arable land to grassland, straw incorporation, reduced tillage, straw incorporation combined with reduced tillage, ley cropping system and cover crops.[197]

Regenerative agriculture includes conservation tillage, diversity, rotation and cover crops, minimizing physical disturbance and supporting biosequestration.[198][199] It has other benefits like improving the state of the soil and consequently yields.[200]

Wetlands[edit]

Wetlands perform two important functions in relation to climate change. They have mitigation effects through their ability to sink carbon, converting a greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) to solid plant material through the process of photosynthesis, and also through their ability to store and regulate water.[201][202] Wetlands store approximately 44.6 million tonnes of carbon per year globally.[203]

Wetlands such as swamps[204] and peatlands[205][206] have lower oxygen levels dissolved than in the air and so oxygen reliant decomposition of organic matter by microbes into CO2 is decreased. Depending on their characteristics, some wetlands are a significant source of methane emissions[207] and some are also emitters of nitrous oxide.[208][209]

Peatlands[edit]

Peatland globally covers just 3% of the land's surface[210] but stores up to 550 gigatonnes of carbon, representing 42% of all soil carbon and exceeds the carbon stored in all other vegetation types, including the world's forests.[211] The threat to peatlands include draining the areas for agriculture and cutting down trees for lumber as the trees help hold and fix the peatland.[212][213][214] Additionally, peat is often sold for compost.[215] Restoration of degraded peatlands can be done by blocking drainage channels in the peatland, and allowing natural vegetation to recover.[187][216]

(A) untrawled seamount and (B) a trawled seamount. Bottom trawling has destroyed many coastal habitats, one of the largest sinks of carbon.

Coastal wetlands[edit]

Mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses make up the majority of the ocean's vegetated habitats but only equal 0.05% of the plant biomass on land and stash carbon 40 times faster than tropical forests.[187] Bottom trawling, dredging for coastal development and fertilizer runoff have damaged coastal habitats. Notably, 85% of oyster reefs globally have been removed in the last two centuries. Oyster reefs clean the water and make other species thrive, thus increasing biomass in that area. In addition, oyster reefs mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing the force of waves from hurricanes and reduce the erosion from rising sea levels.[217]

Ocean-based options[edit]

In principle, carbon can be stored in ocean reservoirs. This can be done with "ocean-based mitigation systems" including ocean fertilization, ocean alkalinity enhancement or enhanced weathering.[218]: 12–36  Blue carbon management is partly an ocean-based method and partly a land-based method.[218]: 12–37  Most of these options could also help to reduce ocean acidification which is the drop in pH value caused by increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations.[219]

The current assessment of potential for ocean-based mitigation options is in 2022 that they have only "limited current deployment", but "moderate to large future mitigation potentials" in future.[218]: 12–4 

In total, "ocean-based methods have a combined potential to remove 1–100 gigatons of CO2 per year".[16]: TS-94  Their costs are in the order of USD40–500 per ton of CO2.

For example, enhanced weathering could remove 2–4 gigatons of CO2 per year. This technology comes with a cost of 50-200 USD per ton of CO2.[16]: TS-94  Enhanced weathering is a process that aims to accelerate the natural weathering by spreading finely ground silicate rock, such as basalt, onto surfaces which speeds up chemical reactions between rocks, water, and air. It removes removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, permanently storing it in solid carbonate minerals or ocean alkalinity.[220]

Engineering based methods of removing carbon dioxide[edit]

Direct air capture[edit]

Direct air capture is a process of capturing CO2 directly from the ambient air (as opposed to capturing from point sources) and generating a concentrated stream of CO2 for sequestration or utilization or production of carbon-neutral fuel and windgas.[221] Artificial processes vary, and concerns have been expressed about the long-term effects of some of these processes.[222]

Carbon capture and storage[edit]

Schematic showing both terrestrial and geological sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a large point source, for example burning natural gas

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a method to mitigate climate change by capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from large point sources, such as cement factories or biomass power plants, and subsequently storing it away safely instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. The IPCC estimates that the costs of halting global warming would double without CCS.[223] Norway's Sleipner gas field, beginning in 1996, stores almost a million tons of CO2 a year to avoid penalties in producing natural gas with unusually high levels of CO2.[224][225]

Taking into account direct and indirect emissions, industry is the sector with the highest share of global emissions.

Demand management and social aspects[edit]

The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report pointed out in 2022: "To enhance well-being, people demand services and not primary energy and physical resources per se. Focusing on demand for services and the different social and political roles people play broadens the participation in climate action."[16]: TS-98  The report explains that behavior, lifestyle, and cultural change have a high mitigation potential in some sectors, particularly when complementing technological and structural change.[226]: 5–3 

Mitigation options that reduce demand for products or services are helping people make personal choices to reduce their carbon footprint, for example in their choice of transport options or their diets.[226]: 5–3  This means there are many social aspects with the demand-side mitigation actions. For example, people with high socio-economic status often contribute more to greenhouse gas emissions than those from a lower socio-economic status. By reducing their emissions and promoting green policies, these people could become "role models of low-carbon lifestyles".[226]: 5–4  However, there are many psychological variables that influence motivation of people to reduce their demand such as awareness and perceived risk. Government policies can support or hinder demand-site mitigation options. For example, public policy can promote circular economy concepts which would support climate change mitigation.[226]: 5–6  Reducing GHG emissions is linked to sharing economy and circular economy.

It has been estimated that only 0.12% of all funding for climate-related research is spent on the social science of climate change mitigation.[227] Vastly more funding is spent on natural science studies of climate change and considerable sums are also spent on studies of impact of and adaptation to climate change.[227]

Lifestyle changes[edit]

The emissions of the richest 1% of the global population account for more than twice the combined share of the poorest 50%.[228]

Individual action on climate change can include personal choices in many areas, such as diet, travel, household energy use, consumption of goods and services, and family size. People who wish to reduce their carbon footprint (particularly those in high income countries with high consumption lifestyles), can take "high-impact" actions, such as avoiding frequent flying and petrol fuelled cars, eating mainly a plant-based diet, having fewer children,[229] using clothes and electrical products for longer,[230] and electrifying homes.[231][232] Excessive consumption is more to blame for climate change than population increase.[233] High consumption lifestyles have a greater environmental impact, with the richest 10% of people emitting about half the total lifestyle emissions.[234][235]

Dietary change[edit]

Avoiding meat and dairy foods has been called "the single biggest way" an individual can reduce their environmental impact.[236] The widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet could cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 63% by 2050.[237] China introduced new dietary guidelines in 2016 which aim to cut meat consumption by 50% and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 billion tonnes by 2030.[238] Overall, food accounts for the largest share of consumption-based GHG emissions with nearly 20% of the global carbon footprint. Almost 15% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions has been attributed to the livestock sector.[232]

A shift towards plant-based diets would help to mitigate climate change.[239] In particular, reducing meat consumption would help to reduce methane emissions.[240] If high-income nations switched to a plant-based diet, vast amounts of land used for animal agriculture could be allowed to return to their natural state, which in turn has the potential to sequester 100 billion tons of CO2 by the end of the century.[241][242]

Population growth[edit]

Since 1950, world population has tripled.[243]

Population growth results in higher greenhouse gas emissions in most regions, particularly Africa.[52]: 6–11  However, economic growth has a bigger effect than population growth.[226]: 6–11  It is the rising incomes, changes in consumption and dietary patterns, together with population growth, which causes pressure on land and other natural resources, and leads to more greenhouse gas emissions and less carbon sinks.[244]: 117  Scholars have pointed out that "In concert with policies that end fossil fuel use and incentivize sustainable consumption, humane policies that slow population growth should be part of a multifaceted climate response."[245] It is known that "advances in female education and reproductive health, especially voluntary family planning, can contribute greatly to reducing world population growth".[226]: 5–35 

Personal carbon trading[edit]

Some forms of personal carbon trading (carbon rationing) could be an effective component of climate change mitigation, with the economic recovery of COVID-19 and new technical capacity having opened a favorable window of opportunity for initial test runs of such in appropriate regions, while many questions remain largely unaddressed.[246][247][248] However, carbon rationing could have a larger effect on poorer households as "people in the low-income groups may have an above-average energy use, because they live in inefficient homes".[249]

Investment and finance[edit]

Investment[edit]

More firms plan to invest in climate change mitigation, specifically focusing on low-carbon sectors.[250]

More than 1000 organizations with a worth of US$8 trillion have made commitments to fossil fuel divestment.[251] Socially responsible investing funds allow investors to invest in funds that meet high environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) standards.[252]

There are lists to show the business organisations which are the "top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions".[253][254][255] Asset management firms are often identified as controllers of large amounts of contemporary financial value with insufficient dedication to climate change targets, with the largest four asset managers controlling around 20% of the world's listed market values – an aggregate assets under management of $20 trillion as of 2021.[256][257][258]

Funding[edit]

Cost estimates[edit]

Mitigation cost estimates depend on the baseline (in this case, a reference scenario that the alternative scenario is compared with), the way costs are modelled, and assumptions about future government policy.[259]: 622  Cost estimates for mitigation for specific regions are dependent on the quantity of emissions "allowed" for that region in future, as well as the timing of interventions.[260]: 90 

Mitigation costs will vary according to how and when emissions are cut: early, well-planned action will minimise the costs.[178] Globally, the benefits of keeping warming under 2 °C exceed the costs.[19]

Many economists estimate the cost of climate change mitigation at between 1% and 2% of GDP.[261] One estimate stated that temperature increase can be limited to 1.5 °C for 1.7 trillion dollars a year.[262][263][better source needed] According to this study, a global investment of approximately $1.7 trillion per year would be needed to keep global warming below 1.5°C. Whereas this is a large sum, it is still far less than the subsidies governments currently provided to the ailing fossil fuel industry, estimated at more than $5 trillion per year by the International Monetary Fund.[264][265]

The economic repercussions of mitigation vary widely across regions and households, depending on policy design and level of international cooperation. Delayed global cooperation increases policy costs across regions, especially in those that are relatively carbon intensive at present. Pathways with uniform carbon values show higher mitigation costs in more carbon-intensive regions, in fossil-fuels exporting regions and in poorer regions. Aggregate quantifications expressed in GDP or monetary terms undervalue the economic effects on households in poorer countries; the actual effects on welfare and well-being are comparatively larger.[266]

Cost–benefit analysis may be unsuitable for analysing climate change mitigation as a whole but still useful for analysing the difference between a 1.5 °C target and 2 °C.[261] One way of estimating the cost of reducing emissions is by considering the likely costs of potential technological and output changes. Policy makers can compare the marginal abatement costs of different methods to assess the cost and amount of possible abatement over time. The marginal abatement costs of the various measures will differ by country, by sector, and over time.[178]

Avoided costs of climate change effects[edit]

By limiting climate change, some of the costs of the effects of climate change can be avoided. According to the Stern Review, inaction can be as high as the equivalent of losing at least 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year, now and forever (up to 20% of the GDP or more when including a wider range of risks and impacts), whereas mitigating climate change will only cost about 2% of the GDP. Also, delaying to take significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions may not be a good idea, when seen from a financial perspective.[267][268]

Mitigation solutions are often evaluated in terms of costs and greenhouse gas reduction potentials, missing out on the consideration of direct effects on human well-being.[269]

Distributing emissions abatement costs[edit]

Mitigation at the speed and scale required to likely limit warming to 2°C or below implies deep economic and structural changes, thereby raising multiple types of distributional concerns across regions, income classes and sectors.[266]

There have been different proposals on how to allocate responsibility for cutting emissions:[270]: 103  Egalitarianism, basic needs (as defined according to a minimum level of consumption), proportionality and polluter-pays principle. A specific proposal is the "equal per capita entitlements".[270]: 106  This approach can be divided into two categories. In the first category, emissions are allocated according to national population. In the second category, emissions are allocated in a way that attempts to account for historical (cumulative) emissions.

Barriers[edit]

A typology of discourses aimed at delaying climate change mitigation[24]

It has been suggested that the main barriers to implementation are uncertainty, institutional void, short time horizon of policies and politicians and missing motives and willingness to start adapting as well as the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. [271] There may be cause for concern about metal requirement for relevant technologies such as photovoltaics.[272] Many developing nations have made national adaptation programs which are frameworks to prioritize adaption needs.[273]

Carbon budgets by country[edit]

Distribution of committed CO2 emissions from developed fossil fuel reserves

An international policy to allocate carbon budgets to individual countries has not been implemented. This question raises fairness issues.[274] With a linear reduction starting from the status quo, industrial countries[clarification needed] would have a greater share of the remaining global budget.[citation needed] Using an equal share per capita globally, emission cuts in industrial countries would have to be extremely sharp.

Geopolitical impacts[edit]

In 2019, oil and gas companies were listed by Forbes with sales of US$4.8 trillion, about 5% of the global GDP.[275] Net importers such as China and the EU would gain advantages from a transition to low-carbon technologies driven by technological development, energy efficiency or climate change policy, while Russia, the USA or Canada could see their fossil fuel industries nearly shut down.[276] On the other hand, countries with large areas such as Australia, Russia, China, the US, Canada and Brazil and also Africa and the Middle East have a potential for huge installations of renewable energy. The production of renewable energy technologies requires rare-earth elements with new supply chains.[277]

Regional differences[edit]

Regional barriers to mitigation include:[278]

  • Developing countries:
    • In many developing countries, importing mitigation technologies might lead to an increase in their external debt and balance-of-payments deficit.[better source needed]
    • Technology transfer to these countries can be hindered by the possibility of non-enforcement of intellectual property rights. This leaves little incentive for private firms to participate. On the other hand, enforcement of property rights can lead to developing countries facing high costs associated with patents and licensing fees.[better source needed]
    • A lack of available capital and finance is common in developing countries.[279] Together with the absence of regulatory standards, this barrier supports the proliferation of inefficient equipment.

National policies[edit]

Although China is the leading producer of CO2 emissions in the world with the U.S. second, per capita the U.S. leads China by a fair margin (data from 2017).

Types and examples[edit]

The most effective and economically efficient approach of achieving lower emissions in the energy sector is to apply a combination of market-based instruments (taxes, permits), standards, and information policies.[280]: 422 

Types of national policies that would support climate change mitigation include:

  • Regulatory standards: These set technology or performance standards, and can be effective in addressing the market failure of informational barriers.[280]: 412  If the costs of regulation are less than the benefits of addressing the market failure, standards can result in net benefits. One example are fuel-efficiency standards for cars.[281]
  • Market-based instruments such as emission taxes and charges: an emissions tax requires domestic emitters to pay a fixed fee or tax for every tonne of CO2-eq GHG emissions released into the atmosphere.[280]: 4123  If every emitter were to face the same level of tax, the lowest cost way of achieving emission reductions in the economy would be undertaken first. In the real world, however, markets are not perfect, meaning that an emissions tax may deviate from this ideal. Distributional and equity considerations usually result in differential tax rates for different sources.
  • Tradable permits: Emissions can be limited with a permit system.[280]: 415  A number of permits are distributed equal to the emission limit, with each liable entity required to hold the number of permits equal to its actual emissions. A tradable permit system can be cost-effective so long as transaction costs are not excessive, and there are no significant imperfections in the permit market and markets relating to emitting activities.
  • Voluntary agreements: These are agreements between government (public agencies) and industry.[280]: 417  Agreements may relate to general issues, such as research and development, but in other cases, quantitative targets may be agreed upon. There is, however, the risk that participants in the agreement will free ride, either by not complying with the agreement or by benefitting from the agreement while bearing no cost.
  • Informational instruments: Poor information is recognized as a barrier to improved energy efficiency or reduced emissions.[280]: 419  Examples of policies in this area include increasing public awareness of climate change, e.g., through advertising, and the funding of climate change research.
  • Research and development policies: Government funding of research and development (R&D) on energy has historically favoured nuclear and coal technologies. Although research into renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies had increased, it was still a relatively small proportion of R&D budgets in the OECD in 2001.[280]: 421 
  • Green power: The policy ensures that part of the electricity supply comes from designated renewable sources.[280]: 422  The cost of compliance is borne by all consumers.
  • Demand-side management: This aims to reduce energy demand, e.g., through energy audits, labelling, and regulation.[280]: 422 
  • Adding or removing subsidies:
    • A subsidy for GHG emissions reductions pays entities a specific amount per tonne of CO2-eq for every tonne of GHG reduced or sequestered.[280]: 421  Although subsidies are generally less efficient than taxes, distributional and competitiveness issues sometimes result in energy/emission taxes being coupled with subsidies or tax exceptions.
    • Creating subsidies and financial incentives:[282] for example energy subsidies to support clean generation which is not yet commercially viable such as tidal power.[283]
    • Phasing-out of unhelpful subsidies: Many countries provide subsidies for activities that impact emissions, e.g., subsidies in the agriculture and energy sectors, and indirect subsidies for transport. Specific example agricultural subsidies for cattle[284] or fossil fuel subsidies
  • A Green Marshall Plan, which calls for global central bank money creation to fund green infrastructure,[285][286][287]
  • Market liberalization: Restructuring of energy markets has occurred in several countries and regions. These policies have mainly been designed to increase competition in the market, but they can have a significant impact on emissions.[288]: 409–410 

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies[edit]

Significant fossil fuel subsidies are present in many countries.[289] Fossil fuel subsidies in 2019 for consumption totalled USD 320 billion[290] spread over many countries.[291] As of 2019 governments subsidize fossil fuels by about $500 billion per year: however using an unconventional definition of subsidy which includes failing to price greenhouse gas emissions, the International Monetary Fund estimated that fossil fuel subsidies were $5.2 trillion in 2017, which was 6.4% of global GDP.[292] Some fossil fuel companies lobby governments.[293]

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is very important.[294] It must however be done carefully to avoid protests[295] and making poor people poorer.[296] In most cases, however, low fossil fuel prices benefit wealthier households more than poorer households. So to help poor and vulnerable people, other measures than fossil fuel subsidies would be more targeted.[297] This could in turn increase public support for subsidy reform.[298]

Carbon pricing[edit]

Carbon emission trade – allowance prices from 2008

Additional costs on GHG emissions can lower competitiveness of fossil fuels and accelerate investments into low-carbon sources of energy. A growing number of countries raise a fixed carbon tax or participate in dynamic carbon emission trading (ETS) systems. In 2021, more than 21% of global GHG emissions were covered by a carbon price, a major increase due to the introduction of the Chinese national carbon trading scheme.[299]

Trading schemes offer the possibility to limit emission allowances to certain reduction targets. However, an oversupply of allowances keeps most ETS at low price levels around $10 with a low impact. This includes the Chinese ETS which started with $7/tCO2 in 2021.[300] One exception is the European Union Emission Trading Scheme where prices began to rise in 2018, reaching about €80/tCO2 in 2022.[301] This results in additional costs of about €0.04/KWh for coal and €0.02/KWh for gas combustion for electricity, depending on the emission intensity.[citation needed]

2021 models of the social cost of carbon calculated a damage of more than $3000 per ton CO2 as a result of economy feedbacks and falling global GDP growth rates, while policy recommendations for a carbon price ranged from about $50 to $200.[302]: 22 

Most energy taxes are still levied on energy products and motor vehicles, rather than on CO2 emissions directly.[303] Methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction are occasionally taxed,[304] but methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture are typically left untaxed.[305]

The revenue of carbon pricing can used to support policies that promote carbon neutrality. Another approach the concept of a carbon fee and dividend which includes the redistribution on a per-capita basis. As a result, households with a low consumption can even benefit from carbon pricing.

Policies by country[edit]

Many countries are aiming for net zero emissions, and many have either carbon taxes or carbon emission trading. As of 2021, three countries are carbon negative, meaning they remove from the atmosphere more greenhouse gas emissions then they emit. The countries are: Bhutan, Suriname, Panama. The countries formed a small coalition at 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference and asked for help so that other countries will join it.[306]

Climate change mitigation policies can have a large and complex impact, both positive and negative, on the socio-economic status of individuals and countries.[307] Without “well-designed and inclusive policies, climate change mitigation measures can place a higher financial burden on poor households.”[308]

Carbon taxes and emission trading worldwide
Emission trading and carbon taxes around the world (2019)[309]
  Carbon emission trading implemented or scheduled
  Carbon tax implemented or scheduled
  Carbon emission trading or carbon tax under consideration

United States[edit]

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the United States include energy policies which encourage efficiency through programs like Energy Star, Commercial Building Integration, and the Industrial Technologies Program.[310]

In the absence of substantial federal action, state governments have adopted emissions-control laws such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast and the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 in California.[311] In 2019 a new climate change bill was introduced in Minnesota. One of the targets, is making all the energy of the state carbon free, by 2030.[312]

China[edit]

In 2020, China committed to peak emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2060;[313] following the 2021 blackouts, officials indicated the 2030 target was something "to strive to" and not necessarily to be met.[314] In order to limit warming to 1.5 °C coal plants in China without carbon capture must be phased out by 2045.[315] The Chinese national carbon trading scheme started in 2021.

With more than 12 GtCO2, China is the largest GHG emitter worldwide, still investing into new coal plants. On the other hand, China is also installing the largest capacities of renewable energy worldwide. In recent years, Chinese companies have flooded the world market with high-performance photovoltaic modules, resulting in competitive prices. China is also building a HVDC grid.

Chinas export-embodied emissions are estimated at a level of 1.7 GtCO2 per year.[316]

European Union[edit]

The climate commitments of the European Union are divided into three main categories: targets for the year 2020, 2030 and 2050. The European Union claim that their policies are in line with the goal of the Paris Agreement.[317][318]

  • Targets for 2020:[319] Reduce GHG emissions by 20% from the level in 1990, produce 20% of energy from renewable sources, increase Energy Efficiency by 20%.
  • Targets for 2030:[320] Reduce GHG emission by 40% from the level of 1990. In 2019 The European Parliament adopted a resolution upgrading the target to 55%,[321] produce 32% of energy from renewables, increase energy efficiency by 32.5%.
  • Targets for 2050:[317] become climate neutral.

The European Union claims that they have already achieved the 2020 target for emission reduction and have the legislation needed to achieve the 2030 targets. Already in 2018, its GHG emissions were 23% lower that in 1990.[322]

Low and middle income countries[edit]

In order to reconcile economic development with mitigating carbon emissions, developing countries need particular support, both financial and technical. One of the means of achieving this is the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The World Bank's Prototype Carbon Fund[323] is a public private partnership that operates within the CDM. However, none of these initiatives suggest a quantitative cap on the emissions from developing countries. This is considered as a particularly difficult policy proposal as the economic growth of developing countries are proportionally reflected in the growth of greenhouse emissions.

An important point of contention is how overseas development assistance not directly related to climate change mitigation is affected by funds provided to climate change mitigation.[324] One of the outcomes of the UNFCC Copenhagen Climate Conference was the Copenhagen Accord, in which developed countries promised to provide US$30 million between 2010 and 2012 of new and additional resources.[324] Yet it remains unclear what exactly the definition of "additional" is.[324]

In 2019 week of climate action in Latin America and the Caribbean result in a declaration in which leaders says that they will act to reduce emissions in the sectors of transportation, energy, urbanism, industry, forest conservation and land use and "sent a message of solidarity with all the people of Brazil suffering the consequences of the rainforest fires in the Amazon region, underscoring that protecting the world's forests is a collective responsibility, that forests are vital for life and that they are a critical part of the solution to climate change".[325][326]

International agreements[edit]

Almost all countries are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).[327][328] The ultimate objective of the UNFCCC is to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of GHGs at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.[329]

Paris Agreement[edit]

The Paris Agreement has become the main current international agreement on combating climate change. Each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming.[330] Climate change mitigation measures can be written down in national environmental policy documents like the nationally determined contributions (NDC). The Paris agreement succeeds the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which expired in 2020. Countries that ratified the Kyoto protocol committed to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, or engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of these gases.

In 2015, two official UNFCCC scientific expert bodies came to the conclusion that, "in some regions and vulnerable ecosystems, high risks are projected even for warming above 1.5 °C".[331] This expert position was, together with the strong diplomatic voice of the poorest countries and the island nations in the Pacific, the driving force leading to the decision of the Paris Conference 2015, to lay down this 1.5 °C long-term target on top of the existing 2 °C goal.[332]

Additional commitments[edit]

In addition to the main agreements, there are many additional pledges made by international coalitions, countries, cities, regions and businesses. According to a report published in September 2019 before the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, full implementation of all pledges, including those in the Paris Agreement, will be sufficient to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees but not to 1.5 degrees.[333] After the report was published, additional pledges were made in the September climate summit[334] and in December of that year.[335]

In December 2020 another climate action summit was held and important commitments were made. The organizers stated that, including the commitments expected in the beginning of the following year, countries representing 70% of the global economy will be committed to reach zero emissions by 2050.[336]

In September 2021 the US and EU launched the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. UK, Argentina, Indonesia, Italy and Mexico joined the initiative, "while Ghana and Iraq signaled interest in joining, according to a White House summary of the meeting, which noted those countries represent six of the top 15 methane emitters globally".[337] Israel also joined the initiative[338]

Although not designed for this purpose, the Montreal Protocol has benefited climate change mitigation efforts.[339] The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty that has successfully reduced emissions of ozone-depleting substances (for example, CFCs), which are also greenhouse gases.

Monitoring[edit]

Satellites are increasingly being used for locating and measuring greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Earlier, scientists largely relied on or calculated estimates of greenhouse gas emissions and governments' self-reported data.[340][341] They can also evaluate the environmental impact of policies and events such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the environment.[342] Various other technologies are also being used for environmental monitoring.

Climate Action Tracker described the situation on 9 November 2021 as follows: the global temperature will rise by 2.7 °C by the end of the century with current policies and by 2.9 °C with nationally adopted policies. The temperature will rise by 2.4 °C if only the pledges for 2030 are implemented, by 2.1 °C if the long-term targets are also achieved. If all the announced targets are fully achieved the rise in global temperature will peak at 1.9 °C and go down to 1.8 °C by the year 2100.[343] All the information about all climate pledges is sent to the Global Climate Action Portal - Nazca. The scientific community is checking their fulfillment.[344]

While the status of most goals set for 2020 have not been evaluated in a definitive and detailed way or reported on by the media, the world failed to meet most or all international goals set for that year.[345][346]

As the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference occurred in Glasgow, the group of researchers running the Climate Action Tracker reported that of countries responsible for 85% of GHG emissions, only four polities (responsible for 6% of global GHG emissions) – EU, UK, Chile and Costa Rica – have published a detailed official policy‑plan that describes the steps and ways by which 2030 mitigation targets could be realized.[347] There are organizations that aim to transparently, neutrally and credibly monitor progress of climate change mitigation such as of pledges, goals, initiatives and other developments.[348][349]

How well each individual country is on track to achieving its Paris agreement commitments can be followed on-line.[350] The negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic has placed a challenge to achieve the Paris Agreement, with less significant support from the respondents from less developed countries.[351]

Supplementary options[edit]

Solar radiation modification (SRM) is an approach that is sometimes grouped together with other climate change mitigation activities but is regarded as only a possible "supplementary activity".[352]: 14–56  This proposed technique is also called solar geoengineering and is part of climate engineering. Unlike other mitigation activities, SRM does not attempt to address the root cause of the problem but would work by changing the way solar radiation is received by Earth.[352]: 14–56 

History[edit]

Historically climate change has been approached at a multinational level where a consensus decision is reached at the United Nations (UN), under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).[353] This represents the dominant approach historically of engaging as many international governments as possible in taking action in on a worldwide public issue. There is a precedent that this model can work, as seen in the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The top-down framework of only utilizing the UNFCCC consensus approach has been proposed to be ineffective, with counter proposals of bottom up governance and decreasing the emphasis of the UNFCCC.[354][355][356]

The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC (adopted in 1997) set out legally binding emission reduction commitments for the "Annex B" countries.[357]: 817  The Protocol defined three international policy instruments ("Flexibility Mechanisms") which could be used by the Annex B countries to meet their emission reduction commitments. According to Bashmakov, use of these instruments could significantly reduce the costs for Annex B countries in meeting their emission reduction commitments.[358]: 402 [needs update]

See also[edit]

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Sources[edit]

IPCC reports[edit]

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AR4 Working Group III Report

AR5 Working Group III Report
SR15 Special Report
AR6 Working Group III Report

Other sources[edit]