Climate change expert: Use existing solutions to avoid catastrophe

With climate commitments and actual actions still falling short of what is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, all eyes are on the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) taking place in Egypt in less than a month.

The risk of a climate emergency is higher than ever, but there are solutions if we act now,” says Inge Jonckheere, one of the co-authors of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN‘s body for assessing the science related to climate change.

Ms. Jonckheere, who is International Team Leader at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) writes on a voluntary basis for the IPCC, as do all its authors, and feels “very honoured to be selected”. She is convinced the work is highly important, not only to support effective policy making and international climate cooperation, but also because it is “crucial to represent a positive example to other women in science.”

As stakes for COP27 are high, UNRIC interviewed the Belgian scientist in the run-up to the climate conference.

What would be your main message in the run-up to COP27?

The latest IPCC report showcases that time is running out to limit global warming within 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century – the bare minimum to avoid catastrophe. It shows that human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are at a record high and world temperatures risk rising by 3.3°C to 5.4°C by 2100 if current pledges are not implemented, and in the absence of new climate policies.

What are your expectations for the next UN Climate Change Conference?

I expect COP27 will set clear finance targets for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage and for developed countries, especially from the G7.

This must be complemented by a roadmap for transparent, accessible and grant-based finance mechanisms. Clear finance targets should be set to mobilise the private sector and other non-state actors, while recognising the indispensable role of public finance from developed countries for developing countries.

It is possible to combine economic growth and emissions reduction. From 2010-2015, 43 out of 166 countries experienced GDP growth while their emissions stabilised or declined. Among these countries are a group of 26 developed countries, including some EU countries and the United States, and some developing countries, such as Cuba.

The IPCC report demonstrates that options to reduce GHG emissions are available at a cost of less than 100 USD per tCO2-eq (ton CO2 equivalent), depending on country conditions and situations. Options costing less than 20 USD per tCO2-eq make up more than half of the 2030 reduction potential.

Which sectors need to take urgent action?

All sectors should try to reduce to the maximum. Options that can halve emissions by 2030 currently exist in all sectors.

Reducing emissions in the energy sector will require major transitions, involving a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use, use of carbon capture and storage, low- or no-carbon energy systems, widespread electrification, use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen and sustainable biofuels, and improved energy efficiency.

The industry sector can reduce emissions by using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimising waste.

In the transport sector, electric vehicles, combined with low- or zero-emissions electricity, offer the greatest potential. Advances in battery technologies could assist in the electrification of trucks and complement conventional electric railways. Low-emission hydrogen and biofuels offer alternatives in shipping and aviation.

Last but surely not least, the agriculture, forestry and other land use sector can not only provide large-scale GHG emissions reductions, but can also remove and store CO2 at scale. This benefits biodiversity and helps us secure livelihoods, food and water, as well as wood supplies.

What can we do ourselves to reduce emissions?

Significant changes across transport, industry, buildings and land-use will make it easier for people to lead low-carbon lifestyles and, at the same time, improve wellbeing.

Technology and infrastructure need to facilitate individuals’ choices to reduce their emissions, e.g. by making it easier to walk or cycle, car-share and use public transport; enabling the repair, rather than replacement of products; improving recycling and reducing food waste; and providing options for more balanced plant-based diets.

The IPCC report is a global report addressing a huge variety of backgrounds and living conditions, so a one size fits all solution is not possible. Not everyone has enough access to proteins to become vegetarian, or without infrastructure it is hard to walk or cycle.

How can we convince policymakers to take swift and decisive action?

Many existing policy tools, such as incentives in renewable energy generation, vehicle efficiency, and energy efficiency in buildings and industry, can be scaled up as part of a climate policy package to support deep emissions reductions.

This requires cooperation across government departments and at different government levels, and needs to build on engagement with civil society, indigenous groups, professional bodies, business and the financial sector.

Achieving ambitious climate goals relies on international cooperation, at national and local levels. For example, networks of city governments are leading to enhanced ambition and policy development.

By 2050, a combination of effective policies, improved infrastructure and technologies leading to behavioural change has the potential to reduce GHG emissions between 40 and 70%.


Ms. Jonckheere has a PhD in Remote sensing & Earth Observation for climate change and a Master’s in Bio-engineering from KULeuven, Belgium.


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