Electrification: key tool to limiting global warming to 1.5°C, says IPCC

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The world has the mitigation tools and know-how to limit global warming to 1.5°C and secure a “liveable future”, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said.

The IPCC Working Group III, which released its updated global assessment of climate change mitigation progress and pledges on 4 April, also reported that emissions could be halved by 2030. This, it said, would involve a significant reduction in fossil fuel use combined with carbon dioxide removal, widespread electrification, better energy efficiency and the use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen.

Electricity systems powered predominantly by renewables are becoming increasingly viable, scientists have confirmed, and they have welcomed the emergence of a range of systemic solutions to accommodate large shares of renewables in the energy system. These include integrating systems, coupling sectors, energy storage, smart grids, demand side management, sustainable biofuels, electrolytic hydrogen and derivatives.

Furthermore, there are potential synergies between sustainable development, energy efficiency, renewable energy, urban planning with more green spaces, reduced air pollution, and demand side mitigation. Electrification combined with low greenhouse gas (GHG) energy, and shifts to public transport can improve health, employment and energy security.

In addition, the report highlighted how cities and other urban areas offer significant opportunities for emissions reductions through lower energy consumption, electrification of transport, and natural sources of carbon uptake and storage. This would have significant benefits for public health, given that the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week reported that 99% of the global population breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits.

Moreover, the IPCC is confident that electric vehicles powered by low-GHG emissions electricity have the potential to cut land-based transport emissions. The panel recommends investments in supporting infrastructure to increase rollout, and research in battery technologies to facilitate the electrification of trucks and complement electric rail systems.

Electrification could also play a role for aviation and shipping for short trips, reducing emissions from ports and airports. Elsewhere, light industry, mining, and manufacturing could be decarbonised through available abatement technologies, electrification and low- or zero-GHG emitting fuels, while scientists recommend using other energy carriers such as sustainable biofuels, low-emissions hydrogen, and derivatives in applications less amenable to electrification.

According to the report, several mitigation options such as solar energy, wind energy, electrification of urban systems, urban green infrastructure, energy efficiency, demand side management, improved forest- and crop/grassland management, are technically viable, increasingly cost effective, and generally supported by the public.