RSPB Forsinard Flows; view from visitor trail, including snow-capped Ben Griam, Highland, Scotland (c) Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)

Today’s blog is written by Melanie Coath, Principal Climate Change Policy Officer, on the new climate change report, and what it means in tackling the climate and nature emergency. 

 

The latest IPCC report, highlights that we urgently need to protect and restore nature alongside reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all our activities if we are to limit global warming to 1.5C or 2C. However, it also emphasises that currently, emissions are still rising meaning, we need much stronger climate action than ever before during this decade. This will not only insure a habitable climate but also deliver positive benefits for the global economy.  

  

Monday, April 4th saw the launch of the third hard-hitting report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report focuses on the ways in which humanity can mitigate climate change. To find out more about what IPCC reports are and how they are conducted see this blog on the previous report. 

 

 What does this third report say about nature? 

The report highlights that between 2010 and 2019 nature on land has absorbed around a third of all human-caused CO2 emissions, even in the face of dramatic land-use change. It emphasises that to keep global warming to 1.5C it is essential that we protect and restore our forests, peatlands, coastal wetlands, savannahs and grasslands from now to 2050 which have the potential to cut emissions by around 7 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent every year from 2020 to 2050. 

Alongside protecting nature, we will need ready-to-deploy measures in farming, such as soil carbon management and improved livestock rearing, as well as shifting to plant-based diets and reducing food waste. 

However, time is running out highlights the IPCC: we have known about most land-based measures for reducing emissions, such as tree-planting and restoring ecosystems, for decades but we are not delivering nearly fast enough to address the climate and nature emergencies and governments urgently need to put in places policies to implement the measures we need. 

This is why the RSPB is working hard, not only to restore woodlands, peatlands and saltmarsh across our own nature reserves, but to call on the UK and devolved to put in place the policies and investment needed to support nature-based solutions to the climate crisis. 

 

The role of bioenergy 

Alongside rapid emissions reductions, the report says that carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere will be “unavoidable” to reach net-zero which includes actions with many additional benefits like restoring ecosystems and potentially more damaging ones like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).  

Deploying BECCS at a large scale could take up vast amounts of global land, damage nature, and even undermine our chances of a safe climate altogether. BECCS has not yet been proven at scale, but in theory, could catch CO2 emitted when biomass is burned, and transport it to be stored underground. This relies on the large-scale burning of organic materials, including trees.  

The IPCC has historically missed opportunities to underscore how risky bioenergy and BECCS might be: 

  1. Current BECCS calculations miss huge sources of emissions, which, if corrected, would show BECCS could actually make climate change worse. 
  2. Carbon capture and storage technology has been in development for decades but consistently failed to deliver. 
  3. We simply can’t risk the impacts on nature of harvesting so many forests and crops. 

 

But earlier this year, the IPCC’s Working Group II highlighted its own concerns about relying on BECCS: threats to nature, water and food security and livelihoods. Working Group III reiterated these, and several scenarios in the report demonstrate that bioenergy and BECCS can be minimised by deploying other renewables and reducing energy demand. The RSPB is leading a coalition of NGOs highlighting the concerns of unsustainable bioenergy and BECCS to the UK Government ahead of its Bioenergy Review this autumn. 

Other renewables such as solar and wind are proven low cost, low carbon technologies, which the IPCC report notes are much more cost effective than continuing to use polluting high-carbon energy sources.  

The expansion of renewables to provide our homes and businesses with low carbon electricity is a vital part of our decarbonisation, with the urgency to expand increased by the need to secure clean and affordable energy in the context of the current energy crisis.  

Unfortunately, while political support for onshore renewables is growing, solar and onshore wind still lack a prominent enough place in our energy transition and despite offshore wind receiving recognition as one of the UK’s leading low carbon technologies, we still lack a roadmap for expansion which is necessary to ensure grid connections and reconcile the difficult challenge of the impacts on nature of increased roll out of offshore windfarms 

 

In Summary

The findings of this week’s report might seem challenging and just like we said in our previous blog, we are facing an immense and unprecedented challenge in tackling global warming. Through concerted action from local to global scale, we can act to make the best of the world we are now in, for nature and for people. Supporting and working with nature is vital for the wildlife we love and our ability to address the climate crisis, alongside rapidly reducing our use of fossil fuels.  

At the RSPB, we are working hard in integrating the IPCC report’s findings when influencing decision makers to invest in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis and in taking action on our nature-reserves including from restoring valuable carbon rich habitats as to installing solar panels and wind turbines. These actions showcase the ways we can mitigate climate change whilst helping wildlife and people. 

We are also working hard to call for ambitious global action to restore nature by seeking to influence the outcomes of the Convention Biological Diversity negotiations at COP15 (the long road to COP15 blog series).  

 

Further reading 

Check out the Reaching Net Zero pages on our website.  

See here for more information about RSPB’s response to todaythis third ’s IPCC report.

See our recent report on Nature-based Solutions in helping meet the UK’s climate commitments: https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/Nature_Based_Solutions_NDC_ReportV2.pd

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