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JRC at COP23: A cleaner, greener planet is both possible and affordable

November 08, 2017

Limiting global warming below the critical 2C level set out in the Paris Agreement is both feasible and consistent with economic growth - and the knock-on improvements to air quality could already cover the costs of mitigation measures and save more than 300,000 lives annually by 2030.

That's one message that scientists from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission's science and knowledge service, bring to this month's 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where this week they present the 2017 Global Energy and Climate Outlook (GECO) report.

Far from being "a little too clean for optimum health", air pollution is responsible for over 400,000 deaths per year in the EU alone. Whilst the GECO report investigates climate and energy policies to map out how climate targets can be achieved, it also explores the impact that these policies will have on air quality - with encouraging signs for global health and the economy.

GECO 2017: climate policies improve air quality

According to GECO, reaching the below 2C target will require decoupling emissions and economic growth, through:
  • An acceleration of decarbonisation trends from 2020 onwards, decreasing energy intensity by an average of 5.8% per year from 2015 to 2050

  • Increased electrification of final energy demand, from 18% in 2015 to 35% in 2050

  • Significant changes in the primary energy mix, including the phasing out of coal and reduction of oil and gas

On air quality, the report finds that if the appropriate measures are taken globally to reach a GHG trajectory compatible with the Paris Agreement, by 2050 roughly 1.5 million lives could be saved across the world annually. In addition to avoided deaths, these measures could reduce the number of air pollution-related cases of illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis by 15-40% annually and raise crop yields by 2.5-6.6%.

Ground-level ozone is absorbed by leaves, damaging plant metabolism and hindering plant growth. As a result, high concentrations of ground-level ozone harm agricultural crop yields and reduce farmers' income. By reducing emissions of ozone precursors like nitrogen oxides, methane, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and carbon monoxide, climate policies raise agricultural yields. This rise - as well as avoided deaths, increased working hours and reduced healthcare costs - could more than offset the costs of mitigation measures.

Showcasing the JRC's work

COP23 brings together representatives from nearly all countries of the world - a total of 195 - to assess progress in dealing with climate change. The EU and its Member States will participate as parties to the convention.

This year's conference is the second session since the signing of the landmark Paris Agreement. Negotiations will focus on how to make the agreement operational and achieve its ambitious objectives.

JRC scientists will provide direct advice to the EU negotiating team, on areas including earth observation and forests and land use.

In addition to the presentation of the GECO report and advice to the negotiating team, the JRC will host a number of events at COP23 to showcase other recent work providing scientific and technical support for the development and implementation of effective EU policy on climate action.

For example, climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will form the basis of one side event. Experts will look at addressing the challenges of global hunger, poverty, energy and growth whilst also meeting environmental and climate targets. In this area the JRC has developed the knowSDGs platform (Knowledge base for the Sustainable Development Goals), which provides management tools and organises information on policies, indicators, methods and data to support the evidence-based implementation of the SDGs.

The key role of forests in meeting climate change targets comes under the spotlight at another JRC event. The panel will discuss the global and local dimensions of forests' contribution to climate mitigation. This will be an opportunity to showcase the Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) dataset and recently-published report, which shows that global CO2 emissions have stalled for the third year in a row. The JRC's work on LULUCF also includes a recent report on forest-based climate mitigation. The JRC will also talk about the scientific basis of forests as a key climate solution on COP23's 'forest day' on Sunday 12 November.

A third event will take stock of progress made in monitoring forest degradation in tropical regions through the use of satellite data, in particular the Sentinels from the Copernicus programme. This will include a review of the JRC's ReCaREDD project (Reinforcement of Capacities for REDD+). Working together with partner countries in the tropics, the project aims to develop techniques for forest monitoring and to strengthen reporting on issues related to emissions from forest degradation.

At an event on coherence between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, the JRC will present its flagship report summarising the state of science risk assessment and communication. The report assesses the best available knowledge from over 270 contributors for effective disaster risk management for current and future climate scenarios.

JRC soil expert Luca Montanarella will also speak at two external events: one organised by FAO in the framework of the agriculture action day of the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action (MPGCA), on unlocking the potential of soil organic carbon for climate change action; and one stocktaking exercise on the results of the first one and a half year '4 for 1000' initiative on soils for food security and climate.

The JRC and climate action

The JRC's climate action activities extend well beyond those that will come under the spotlight at COP23. Some recent projects include:
  • The green driving tool, helping drivers to reduce fuel costs by showing the most suitable type of car for specific routes.

  • The EMHIRES wind dataset, modelling how much energy the current installed wind farms in Europe have produced in every hour during the last 30 years.

  • Research on critical materials for green energy technologies, which looks at ways to ensure that supply is sufficient to meet the growing demand for these materials as the sustainable energy sector grows.

The JRC has identified four key actions in this regard: domestic EU production, reliable imports, recycling of materials and substitution with alternative materials where possible.

European Commission Joint Research Centre

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