Reducing emissions and advancing research for net-zero

Our own lifestyles, unsustainable energy and land use, patterns of consumption and production have made it difficult for us to limit global warming as enshrined in the Paris Agreement and to reach other societal goals related to nature protection, sustainable development, justice, peace and wellbeing for people around the world. But increasing climate action engaging people across all levels of society, as well as positive effects of international and national climate policies underline our ability to shape the future we want. With these stark messages, the contribution of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report highlights crucial choices that need to be made and put into practise.

According to the report launched today, average annual greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels between 2010 and 2019, but growth is slowing down. Drastic emissions reductions would be able to put limiting global warming in line with the Paris Agreement within reach again. Options are available to at least halve emissions by 2050, with co-benefits for human health and wellbeing. In addition, climate change mitigation and adaptation are crucial for sustainable development.

Statement Professor Dr. Katja Matthes, GEOMAR Director

“The new IPCC Working Group III report comes at a time where rising carbon dioxide emissions and our dependance on fossil fuels make it difficult to limit global warming as enshrined in the Paris Agreement and to reach other societal goals related to nature protection, sustainable development, justice, peace and wellbeing for people around the world. We have the capacity to shape the future we want, but need stronger ambition and far more action to reach our committed goals. These challenges can best be tackled and new opportunities be created if all relevant societal groups contribute to the necessary transitions.

The ocean offers solutions for climate change mitigation, but their potentials, synergies and trade-offs need to be further assessed – the safest and most beneficial approach will always be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically.”

Statement Professor Dr. Mojib Latif, Head of the Research Unit Marine Meteorology:

“The IPCC Working Group III Report tells us very clearly – again – that our lifestyles still cause global greenhouse gas emissions to rise. It also reveals global inequalities: The top ten per cent income households are responsible for much of these emissions. What is more, countries’ commitments to emissions reductions in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) put limiting global warming according to the Paris Agreement out of reach – and current development paths do not appear to be in line yet with these NDCs.

Global emissions pathways described by the IPCC illustrate the choices and necessary emissions reductions: Do we take immediate action and follow a path to limiting warming as agreed in Paris? Do we rely on solutions for negative emissions that still need to be developed? Do we head into a warming world full of risks? What kind of world do we want to live in and what do we want to be our legacy for future generations?”

Statement Professor Dr. Andreas Oschlies, Head of Research Unit Biogeochemical Modelling and Contributing Author Chapter 12 “Cross-Sectoral Perspectives”:

“With emissions still on the rise, we face a double challenge: First, we need to reduce our emissions drastically in all regions of the world and in all areas of human life and activities. Second, we need to identify reliable strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it safely to counterbalance remaining, currently unavoidable emissions to reach a „net zero“ balance by mid-century.

Different development pathways assessed in the IPCC Working Group III report illustrate that the more emissions remain and the later we act, the more technologies for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) would have to be employed. From what we know already today, nature-based solutions alone will not be sufficient to reach net zero. We therefore urgently have to research additional options if we want to reach our climate targets. But while exploring the feasibility of such options and analysing their potential side effects, we must not get distracted from the primary goal of cutting emissions.

The Research Mission „Marine Carbon Sinks in Decarbonisation Pathways” (CDRmare) of the German Marine Research Alliance (DAM) brings together researchers from a variety of scientific disciplines as well as practitioners to evaluate potentials, co-benefits and trade-offs of ocean-based options for carbon dioxide removal. Our results will support societal decisions and the development of appropriate governance schemes.”

Statement Dr. David Keller, project leader and coordiantior Ocean NETs and Contributing Author Chapter 12 “Cross-Sectoral Perspectives”:

“The ocean is able to help us remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it safely. Some methods are already available to be employed: Along our coasts, restoration of “blue carbon“ ecosystems such as coastal wetlands or mangroves can contribute to carbon dioxide (CO2) removal and at the same time provide protection against erosion, storm surges and sea level rise or support biodiversity. Options such as ocean alkalinisation or direct CO2 removal from seawater can open up additional opportunities.

But further research is crucial to identify effective solutions and to avoid negative side-effects. Because so far, a major focus has been on land-based options, it is still hard to assess the impacts and feasibility of marine approaches. In addition, coordination is necessary to balance competition for resources in land or marine areas and to balance climate mitigation with other societal goals.

The European Project OceanNETS assesses to what extent, and under what conditions, the large-scale deployment of ocean-based CO2 removal technologies could contribute to realistic and effective pathways for Europe and the world to achieve climate neutrality and the goals established in the Paris Agreement.”

Statement Professor Dr. Martin Visbeck, Head of the Research Unit Physical Oceanography

“The new IPCC report highlights many synergies between climate change mitigation, adaptation and sustainable development, with climate action being key to unlock these synergies. But it also warns us that caution is needed to avoid trade-offs for vulnerable societal groups, including indigenous peoples and communities in least developed countries and small island development states.

The Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations provide a framework to evaluate implications across mitigation, adaptation and sustainable development options and to promote synergistic pathways. It is critical to address climate change and sustainable development together. The first steps have been made – and we can still do far more to safeguard our own wellbeing on this planet.”