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In this picture taken Thursday, April 3, 2014, giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler in front of a smoking power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in western Germany.

Machines dig for coal near a power plant outside the city of Grevenbroich in western Germany. The IPCC report on Sunday is expected to outline how to reduce harmful emissions from power generation and other industries.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARTIN MEISSNER, ASSOCIATED PRESS  

Dan Vergano

National Geographic

Published April 9, 2014

Trust in technology: That seems to be the underlying message of a coming report from the world's top panel on climate change. (Related: "Can Coal Ever Be Clean?")

Scheduled for release on Sunday in Berlin, Germany, the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report will point to many possible ways—from burying greenhouse gases to going nuclear to encouraging biofuel production—to save humanity from the ravages of climate change.

"We are at a critical juncture," IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri said in a statement kicking off the final review of the report on Monday. The document is still in draft form and will be revised before its release this Sunday. The final report matters, he emphasized, because it will define the issues and outline options for policymakers at next year's international climate summit in Paris.

There, world leaders—if they have the political backbone—will face the climate challenges they left unresolved at the 2008 climate meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

An earlier IPCC report in 2013 found that more than half of the global warming observed since 1950 was caused by humans. The biggest culprit has been emissions from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal. (Related: "Clean Coal Test: Power Plants Prepare to Capture Carbon.") And the warming looks "virtually certain" to continue unless those emissions are cut.

"I think we will see that there are a wide number of paths we can take to get to the mountaintop we want to reach," says economist James Edmonds of the Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Maryland. (Edmonds participated in drafting the latest IPCC report, but he emphasized that his comments to National Geographic represented his personal views.) "We just have to pick what mountaintop we all want, in terms of a temperature goal for the climate. And we have to decide to climb there."

Some critics, such as political scientist Steven Cohen of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City, think it's unlikely that the IPCC report will spur political action. It should be seen more as a guide "to point to ways to transition to renewable energy," he says. "Ingenuity is more likely to help us than a treaty."

A Hard Climb

A 1992 United Nations agreement broadly obligated the world to limit global temperature increases to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) over preindustrial levels. Some studies have noted significant dangers—chiefly, lower farm production—if the planet warms beyond that point.

"The most interesting and useful thing the new report could do would be in simply laying out all the paths we could take to not breach that limit," says MIT economist John Reilly. "Most people think it's very unlikely we are going to stay within that [3.6-degree] limit."

The IPCC Working Group 3 report, based on six years of economic and technology studies, will lay out innovations and reforms in power generation, industry, transportation, farming, and other fields that might help nations to reduce emissions. Yet many of the scenarios examined in the report also look at what the world might do if the 3.6-degree limit is passed and temperatures rise still higher.

"Based on the studies that are already out there, I think we can say the sooner emissions are reduced, the easier it becomes to reach those goals," Edmonds says.

Written by 235 scientists from 53 nations over four years, the report on climate change mitigation is the third in a series released in the past year. The IPCC has released such reports in groups every six to seven years since 1990.

IPCC reports synthesize scientific studies to present policy options to government leaders. The two earlier reports enumerated the near-certain evidence that greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for increasing temperatures worldwide over the last century, and detailed the impacts on people, wildlife, and the environment.

"The IPCC is not going to solve the political problem that is at the bottom of things," Reilly cautioned. "A lot of the studies [considered] in the report started from the premise that we already were doing something about carbon reduction. That didn't happen."

Big Surprise

One surprise that will likely appear in the final version of the report is that some technologies appear to have more potential than they did in 2007 to remove carbon from the air.

The final IPCC document is still being edited and reviewed, but recent news reports have suggested that it will tout power plants that burn agricultural waste, farmed trees, or algae as fuel, then capture the carbon dioxide emissions and store them underground. The technology is called "bioenergy with carbon capture and storage" (BECCS).

"Is atmospheric carbon dioxide removal a game changer for climate change mitigation?" was the title of a recent Climatic Change journal report on BECCS co-authored by the chief author of the IPCC study, Ottmar Edenhofer of Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Such methods are expensive and face skepticism, however. "The technology only works ... if you store the carbon and you put some kind of price on carbon to make it economically feasible," Edmonds says, adding that all carbon-cutting technologies should be available for policymakers to consider.

"The more bullets you have to shoot, the more likely you are to hit your target," he says.

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.

27 comments
m s
m s

Steps to cut greenhouse gases:


1: Stop subsidizing oil and coal companies until they begin valid replacement fuel programs.


2: Remove the heads of these companies from the energy commission entirely both nationally at internationally.


3: Begin a program to port vehicles over to the new fuels available for military, public transport, taxis.


4: Begin legislating the transition to the new fuel types for vehicles manufactured and sold everywhere so that the transition will be quicker.


5: Make fuels such as algae based ethanol and HTC free Hemp biofuels the new focus for the future inviting oil companies to mass produce.


6: Legislate that all vehicles in the private sector by a certain year must be either converted or if new use a completely different fuel system than today (biofuel/ethanol/electric or some combination of the three).


Cawas Nazir
Cawas Nazir

In the future our energy systems have got to be renewable and sustainable. A new technology that utilizes hydro electric power to tap the oceans enormous energy reserve may have the potential to provide clean energy at acceptable cost. Details are provided in a paper 'Offshore Hydroelectric Plant; A techno-economic analysis of a renewable energy source' published in the Elsevier Journal , Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 34 2014

Brad Lobdell
Brad Lobdell

Climate change is a joke and the IPCC report a comic book. Loony toons. I will be canceling my membership immediately.

Gary Rucinski
Gary Rucinski

Emissions reduction is a matter of technology driven by economics. A revenue neutral carbon tax such as that supported and promoted by Citizens' Climate Lobby would wean the world off of fossil fuels and start the self-sustaining clean energy revolution we really need to completely decarbonize the economy.


Sequestration of CO2 by technological means will fail due to expense of capturing during or post combustion and diffuseness once released, never mind the risks associated with storing underground. Alternatively, nature--plant life--when managed properly, naturally sequesters carbon and provides other advantages as well. Allan Savory has demonstrated this over and over. Reversing desertification using livestock could reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations by 100ppm while providing food, restoring wetlands and natural habitats, preserving biodiversity, and preventing ocean dead zones by reducing agricultural runoff.


Preventing the worst effects of climate change requires humility all around. Industrialists and technologists must admit that not all problems have technological, profit-generating solutions (e.g., nature does carbon sequestration better). Environmentalists and social justice advocates must admit that some problems are best addressed by the free market (i.e., promoting transition to conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy by raising prices for fossil fuels and letting the free market go to work).

Miguel Sanchez
Miguel Sanchez

So many pedestrians mostly from the past generation sit here in front of their kids and turn down the effects of climate change even though it exist i can't help but wonder when did they forsake themselves.

Mark Goldes
Mark Goldes

A cheap green silver bullet, the missing, singularly realistic, path to slowing climate change appears to be at hand. 

An abundant, largely untapped source of solar energy, atmospheric heat, can potentially power engines continuously without the need for fuel. Two decades of physics research indicate not only that this may be possible, but that there exist exploitable exceptions to the current interpretation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. One example of such an exception is a patent pending piston engine currently being prototyped.  Utilizing the abundant energy stored in the atmosphere, this design is capable of producing power continuously and can potentially scale to large sizes

Turbines that do not require fuel have also been designed and are being prototyped.  They could provide hybrid cars with practically unlimited range and the ability to produce and sell excess electricity when suitably parked. Variations on this design may one day in the not-too-distant future replace coal and nuclear plants as well as power aircraft.

A few small prototype engines will be tested and validated by independent labs. A desktop piston engine capable of charging a tablet computer and cell phone will follow. Units capable of powering homes and small buildings will not be far behind.See www.aesopinstitute.org

The science behind these engine designs provides unrecognized exceptions to The Second Law of Thermodynamics. Few physicists and/or engineers accept them as possible.  Second Law Surprises, under MORE on that website, may be of interest to individuals willing to examine facts and evidence that are not widely known.

It appears to be just a matter of time before additional new, landmark discoveries in physics, and engineering, will lead to highly efficient engines and generators that use the practically unlimited energy available to humanity in the atmosphere. Such devices have the potential to significantly reduce the impact of climate change on present and future generations. 


“Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe. Let us learn the truth and spread it as far and wide as our circumstances allow. For the truth is the greatest weapon we have.” ― H.G. Wells

Bob Bingham
Bob Bingham

The cheapest and best solution is not to burn fossil fuels in the first place. Coal in particular is a dirty polluting fuel and can easily be replaced by natural renewable energy. Coal is only cheaper if you vent the smoke to the atmosphere for free, as soon as you try to clean it up it becomes expensive and why bother.  http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/clean-energy-alternatives.html

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

The IPCC and others who fret about climate change should stop preaching to the converted here in the West. WE KNOW! 

Instead, they should concentrate on nations such as India, Russia and China whose industries are steaming ahead at full throttle. They continue to build new power stations and continually increase their consumption of coal, oil, gas and water.

Then there's the Third World. All the African countries want to develop modern industry and life-styles given the chance on the basis of having the right to do what the West has already done. How many power stations will Africa build and how much fossil fuel will they consume? - Unless someone's mad enough to give Africa nuclear power stations of course!   

Steven Sage
Steven Sage

Bicycles.   Light rail public transportation.

In cities, get rid of the cars, completely.  

D Flagg
D Flagg

@Phillip Noe & Leo Kretzner. It actually will not matter if Paul M. is getting paid pennies to spread propaganda or if you hilariously think he is a Koch operative (honestly that made me laugh out loud!) But instead people seem  obsessed with treating the symptom --- burning fossil fuels --- instead of getting to the source of the problems of why we overuse and why deforestation is pervasive. What is ALWAYS missing from the conversation about reducing emissions is getting to the WHY of all the burning of fossil fuels. It is my opinion and the opinion of many others that the meat industry and our demand for meat is at the core of the problem --- growing meat, transporting meat, using fuel to go purchase meat, clear cutting for grazing and the subsequent emissions, waste and energy resources that meat produces & utilizes. So --- since the meat industry accounts for more energy usage than any other --- it makes sense to me to stop its spread and use. 

Tom Swift
Tom Swift

Thank the environmentalists for the CO2  and AWG problem. After TMI their protests successfully stopped all new nuclear power plants. Coal was the substitute. Unintended consequences.

Phillip Noe
Phillip Noe

We are warming the planet and the consequences are not good.  This is well established.  Join the efforts to reduce emissions.  Apathy/inaction effectively advocates more of the same dangerous behaviors.


ExhaustingHabitability(dot)com

Soumo Bose
Soumo Bose

@Mark Goldes   im curious about the model that would help replacing normal source of fuel energy, and will it be cheap enough to be used in moderate countries like India.

John Patt
John Patt

@Mark Goldes  Mark, I'm not sure about exceptions to the 2nd Law, but you raise some interesting possibilities. If sunlight energy could be converted into chemical energy, CO2 could be reformulated into fuel.  There is the additional benefit that 3rd World nations may be able to supply themselves with inexpensive fuel which could go a long way to promoting civil stability.

Bob Bingham
Bob Bingham

@Andrew Booth  The USA is the main home and promoter of climate denial and Americans are by far the biggest polluters so there is a long way to go yet.

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

@D Flagg No DFlagg! The meat industry is NOT the underlying problem (presumably you are a vegetarian and you are riding your hobby horse). The underlying cause of all the world's problems - global warming, deforestation, desertification, over-fishing, extinction of species, the lack of food, water, fuel, housing, employment, health care etc., etc. - is unchecked human population increase. 

There are too many people - as simple as that! I've done my bit by not having children but societies keep producing children with no check on the numbers.


With reference to your treating symptoms, only a bad doctor treats the symptoms and ignores the cause of a disease. A good doctor knows to treat the disease and the symptoms disappear. Yet humans continue to ignore the cause of the world's problems and keep wittering on about the symptoms. 

It's nothing to do with eating meat!

Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson

@Paul M.  I bet you could find a few scientists who disagree about the dangers of smoking. Most of them became climate denialists, when the tobacco industry money dried up.

Phillip Noe
Phillip Noe

@Paul M. Getting paid pennies for continuing to post your corporate propaganda?  Tell me why the world's respected scientific institutions disagree with you?


Your 110% certainty demand is amusing and telling.

Leo Kretzner
Leo Kretzner

@Paul M. Yeah, right. You're probably an operative from Koch Industries... Paid to lie and create doubt.  How about we err on the side of caution, as one would in most areas of life?

Mark Goldes
Mark Goldes

@John Patt @Mark Goldes  John, you may enjoy the website. Solar energy can be tapped 24/7 as atmospheric heat. And it will run engines without fuel.

D Flagg
D Flagg

@Andrew Booth @D Flagg  If you spent as much time researching as you do labeling people you might learn something --- The population of the world is in decline. And the amount of CO2 output has everything to do with the livestock industry.

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

@D Flagg @Andrew BoothThe population is not in decline D Flagg - it's passed 7 billion and still rising. The latest projection is that the population might stabilise at 9-10 billion by about 2040, although others think it might continue to rise after that. 


These figures come from an article in National Geographic magazine last year, although I can't recall the exact one.

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