How can climate tech support the latest IPCC recommendations?
Breaking down the science and diving into the opportunities.
By Lindsey Higgins, PhD
The new IPCC report is dire. Policy is heading in the wrong direction, and we are behind on investments to be able to hinder a 1.5°C catastrophe. We need to improve our energy systems, rethink our cities and infrastructure, and overhaul our food systems–all while ensuring health, safety, and equality for everyone.
Our Head of Climate Insights, Lindsey Higgins, was given an early look at the newly launched IPCC Synthesis Report as an expert reviewer for the text. Join her below to learn what this important report says about the status of climate change, and where there are opportunities for climate tech to help us turn things around.
What is the IPCC?
IPCC stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It was created in 1988 by the World Metrological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program to assess the state of knowledge on climate change and published its first report in 1990. Just this week, the IPCC finished its 6th assessment cycle, where hundreds of scientists from 195 countries worked together over several years to present a complete picture of human-caused climate change.
The IPCC does not conduct its own research. Rather it reports on the vast wealth of knowledge created by the scientific community. Throughout this cycle, the IPCC published six reports:
Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C (Oct 2018)
Special Report: Climate Change and Land (Aug 2019)
Special Report: The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (Sep 2019)
Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis (Aug 2021)
Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Feb 2022)
Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change (Apr 2022)
On March 19th, the 6th assessment cycle culminated with the approval of its Synthesis Report–an 8,000-page summary of all IPCC activity from the past five years. The IPCC Synthesis Report is the most comprehensive collection of available climate science information.
What does the science say?
Every 1000 gigatonnes of CO2 emitted by human activities results in around 0.45°C of warming, and in 2022 alone, we emitted 36.8 gigatonnes of CO2e. Because of our cumulative emissions, we have already passed 1.1°C of human-caused global warming, and we are not on track to limit that warming to 1.5°C. We are not even on track to limit it to 2.0°C. Our current warming trajectory is heading toward about 3.2°C by 2100, and that will be disastrous. We will see longer and hotter heat waves, much more frequent droughts, and a global average sea level rise of at least 50 cm (goodbye coastal cities). All of this will lead to significant damage to nature and infrastructure, as well as loss of life. These risks are high at 1.5°C. At 3.2°C, they are astronomical, and they are going to affect every region of the planet.
The Summary for Policymakers lists examples of key risks for different regions of the world. In Europe, we can expect economic disruption due to flooding, water shortages, losses in crop production, and heat extremes that also lead to stress and mortality. The higher temperatures rise, the more intense these effects will become and the more likely they are to be irreversible.
Insufficient finance and a lack of political commitment are listed as key barriers to climate mitigation and adaptation. One of the problems is the “implementation gap”, where what countries have committed to do does not match the actual implementation of policies. Essentially meaning there is a lot of talk but not enough action. In the image below, the red line shows the trend that implemented policies have us following and where emissions need to be to limit global warming. By 2030, that’s only seven years away, global GHG emissions (CO2, methane, nitrous oxide - all of it) need to fall by 43% from where they were in 2019.
What you are going to hear over and over is that we need “deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in emissions.” If we do this, we can still turn things around. Yes, we will probably overshoot the 1.5°C target, but this can be temporary if we put on the brakes. We can still reverse global warming, but the longer we wait, the more difficult this becomes.
Opportunities for climate tech
There are many opportunities to scale up the impact of technology on climate change, and the IPCC has identified six areas that are key to a sustainable future for everyone. Here are some of the mitigation and adaptation measures that the report has highlighted within each area:
Energy Systems: Reduce fossil fuel use through widespread electrification, decarbonized electricity supply, energy conservation, and increased efficiency. This includes smart grid technology, demand management, and improved capacity.
Industry and Transport: Advancements in battery technology, electrifying heavy transport, and alternative fuels like biofuels and green hydrogen. Circular material flows, especially for critical minerals, will be necessary. Emission reductions in the cement industry will be massive here. In the short term, that means material substitution and CCS, but we really need new chemistries and alternative types of cement.
Cities, Settlements, and Infrastructure: Better public transportation, more efficient building design, retrofits, and better use of existing buildings. More blue/green infrastructure will support carbon sequestration, prevent flooding, and reduce overall energy consumption.
Land, Ocean, Food, and Water: The highest mitigation potential comes from reducing tropical deforestation, but ecosystem restoration has a large role to play as well. Shifting to more sustainable diets and reducing food loss/waste will be enablers. Cooperation with local communities and indigenous people will help ensure success and a just transition.
Health and Nutrition: Improving ecosystem health, reducing food loss and waste, and reducing flood exposure of water and sanitation systems. On the adaptation side, we will need effective response systems for extreme heat, early warning systems for infections and diseases, and universal healthcare access.
Society, Livelihoods, and Economies: Disaster risk management, early warning systems, and better social safety nets (like weather insurance). Increasing climate education will help accelerate behavior change. Climate adaptation will need to be integrated into public works programs like water and sanitation services.
It’s essential to keep in mind that as much as we need fast action, we also need intelligent action. In our rush to design solutions, we need to remember that everything is connected, or we risk worsening our situation in other ways–this is called maladaptation. We should look for long-term sustainable solutions rather than short-term wins and be aware of potential unintended consequences.
On a personal note, I want to add that it's normal to feel anxious, depressed, or distressed about climate change. You’re not alone. I had an early look at this report, and I still felt overwhelmed and sad going through it again. Give yourself time to process and grieve, and then join the fight. If you’re interested in climate tech, many of the Pale blue dot portfolio companies are hiring, but as you can see above, we also need more and new ideas and more and new kinds of founders to innovate in this space. If you do, make sure to reach out to us when you’re ready.
Want to read the report yourself? Visit the IPCC website to download the Synthesis Report (coming soon) and Summary for Policy Makers.