10 Charts that Explain Climate Change Mitigation (plus 2 more that explain negotiation)

I really love the IPCC (high confidence), but if you read the summary for policymakers (medium confidence), some of the wording doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue (robust evidence, medium agreement).  You know what I mean? (medium evidence, medium agreement)

This post is an attempt to do a pictorial summary (of the summary) from Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change using its main charts.  I’ll try to keep it punchy.

Here . . . we . . . go (have coffee, will make it through).  

1) Emissions Keep Growing

GHG Emissions

Over the last forty years emissions have just kept growing.  The growth rate was greater in the noughties.  The growth in emissions is dominated by CO2 from fossil fuels.  In 2010 total greenhouse gas emissions were estimated to be 49 Gt CO2eq.

2) The Whole Economy Contributes

Emissions Sources

The leading economic sectors for emissions are ‘electricity and heat’ (25%), ‘agriculture, forestry and other land use’ (24%), industry (21%), transport (14%), other energy (10%) and buildings (6%).

3) Economic and Population Growth Drive Emissions

Emissions Change

Economic growth and population growth are the key drivers of growing emissions.  Improvements in the energy intensity of GDP slows emissions growth.  After three decades of small improvements the carbon intensity of energy supply increased in the period 2001-2010.

4) Low Carbon Energy is the Key to Mitigation

Emissions PathwaysTo limit warming by the end of the century to 2°C we need to cut emissions along the blue 450 ppm path. In this pathway a 310% increase in low carbon energy by 2050 helps to make avoiding 2°C by 2100 ‘likely’ (66-100%).

5) Delaying Till 2030 Makes Mitigation Harder

Delaying Action

If we delay significant action on climate mitigation the challenge becomes even worse.  Delaying the low carbon energy ramp up till just 2030 would require more than doubling its growth in the 2030-2050 period.

6) Mitigation Could Be Relatively Cheap

Mitigation CostsCost effective mitigation has the potential to be relatively cheap.  Assuming global mitigation began immediately, a single global carbon price and good access to technology, the 450 ppm scenario could cost as little as 0.06% per annum (or 4.8% of GDP by 2100).  These estimates also omit the value of many mitigation benefits.

7) Cleaner Air is among Co-Benefits

CoBenefitsMany actions to mitigate climate change result in co-benefits.  Clean air is the most obvious one, but energy security, ecosystem resilience and resource availability may also be improved.

8) Electricity is Key, CCS Will Help

Sectoral ChangeAlthough mitigation needs to occur in all sectors low carbon electricity is a central challenge.  In the baseline scenario above it is the major source of emissions growth whereas in the 450 ppm scenario (without CCS) it drops rapidly.  Achieving the 450 ppm target by 2100, without carbon capture and storage (CCS), will require a huge contribution from natural land sinks (forests and soils).

9) Reducing Energy Demand Also Matters

Demand ChangeAlthough ramping up low carbon energy is the central challenge, slowing the growth of energy demand is also a central part of mitigation.  Potential for reducing energy demand exists in the transport, buildings and industry end-use sectors.

10) Global Investment is Required

In the coming two decades investment for energy efficiency and renewables needs to surge to start us on the 450 ppm pathway. Nuclear and CCS investment would also help.  Fossil fuel investment needs to crash.

That’s the end of our roundup of the ten key charts in the summary for policymakers.  But sometimes the charts that don’t make the final summary can be even more educational.  These next two charts from the final report explain just why it is so hard to negotiate a global agreement to cut emissions.

10+1) Emissions Growth is in Mid Income Countries

11CauseofEmissionsGrowthMost emissions growth in recent decades has occurred in Upper Mid Income countries, most notably in the energy and industry sectors in China.  In contrast low income countries continue to have limited emissions which are dominated by deforestation emissions.

10+2) Rich Countries Export Emissions


Despite the fast growing emissions of upper middle income countries they still emit less per capita than High Income Countries. Moreover, wealthy countries have outsourced significant carbon intensive manufacturing to middle income countries.

Keen for more?  Then go and read the real thing >> Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change  For some tips on DIY mitigation check out our free eBook Emit This: 13 Strategies for Squeezing More Life Out of Less Carbon.

  • Konstantinos Mouzakitis

    Typo: Role of the tongue. Correct to: Roll of the tongue.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      ‘Roll off the tongue’ even. Thanks, corrected

  • http://www.stavreas.com Kosta Stavreas

    Excellent article Lindsay. Love the way these charts show multiple dimensions of the climate trends and challenges.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      It’s chart porn for climate wonks. Quite astonishing the work that goes into these reports. Shame they don’t get a deeper treatment in the media

  • Gregg Hardy

    Excellent. I just read through the mitigation report and was trying to figure out how to share the key findings with my kids. You’ve done it for me, and I can just share on Facebook. How convenient. I should also say that I value the contribution that “Shrink that Footprint” is making to the global community. Simple, data-based, common sense information.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      I understand why they are the way the are, but I really wish the IPCC could release a secondary form of summary that was an easier read. A video would be nice. Some of the media coverage is so poor, they could do with the help. Such a lovely comment!! Made my day

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