Organizations, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), often review the feasibility of climate scenarios but it is not known what drives these feasibility concerns and whether they can actually be accomplished in practice.
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A recent systematic framework could allow researchers to understand the kinds of aspects that need to be improved in the next generation of situations and look for ways to achieve ambitious emission reductions by reinforcing enabling conditions.
Although the IPCC is in the middle of the drafting cycle of the Sixth Assessment Report, the publication of which will begin in the H2 of 2021, there is an ongoing discussion on how to evaluate the feasibility of ambitious climate mitigation situations created through integrated assessment models and to what level they are truly possible in the real world.
In the new research work published in the Environmental Research Letters journal, scientists from IIASA and the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment (EIEE) have devised a systematic framework that helps determine the location, type, and timing of feasibility issues raised by climate mitigation situations.
Feasibility—in other words, how plausible it is that a scenario materializes in the real world—is a complex concept that is currently getting significant academic attention. In our research, we built on past advancements in theoretical discussions and propose to operationalize feasibility in terms of the timing, disruptiveness, and scale of transformation across geophysical, technological, economic, institutional, and sociocultural feasibility dimensions.
Elina Brutschin, Study First Author and Researcher, Transformative Institutional and Social Solutions Research Group, IIASA
Silvia Pianta, a postdoctoral researcher at EIEE and PhD fellow at Bocconi University, stated, “Another major insight concerns the necessity to improve the assessment of socio-cultural feasibility concerns by including more indicators and incorporating insights on attitudes and behavioral changes from the social sciences.”
We found that the current generation of scenarios does not explore demand-side mitigation to its full potential and that more research is necessary in this area.
Bas van Ruijven, Study Co-Author and Sustainable Service Systems Research Group Leader, IIASA
To deal with these problems, the team designed a feasibility assessment of indicators every 10 years, with a flexible aggregation process that helps assess feasibility problems across time and dimensions.
This flexible method allowed the researchers to see the 'big picture' to, for example, determine which dimension increases significant feasibility concerns, and also to review more in-depth queries, like trade-offs over time, both across and within various dimensions.
The systematic framework, thus obtained, is quite handy to understand the kinds of aspects that need to be improved in the next generation of circumstances and to examine more systematically the type of enabling factors that might bring scientists closer to more ambitious mitigation paths in the days to come.
The study authors particularly applied the new systematic framework to the openly available scenario fixed by the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C and they observed that several scenarios presently assume a comparatively fast overall decarbonization rate in areas with a relatively low mitigation capacity.
This indicates that several feasibility concerns are associated with institutional limitations, including government effectiveness, added Brutschin. While it might be complicated to improve the quality of governance in several areas, targeted capacity building and investments can considerably play a key role in overcoming this problem.
The researchers also emphasized that the systematic framework helps trace significant trade-offs over time, and noted that while previous analyses targeted mitigation costs, the latest study clearly demonstrates that delayed climate action may generally be much riskier than an early disruptive transformation.
This is because delayed action needs an overall larger system to be changed relatively faster and tends to depend on novel technologies.
In this respect, a better insight into inter-dimensional and inter-temporal trade-offs integrating insights from policymakers and experts is crucial to take the overall interpretation of the feasibility ideas to the next level.
The new versatile framework that emerged from this collaborative project can be applied to any set of scenarios and can be constantly improved by incorporating new insights from the empirical literature on what is feasible in the real world. Although it was originally developed to evaluate global scenarios, it can be adjusted to have a more systematic evaluation of regional or national feasibility concerns in the future.
Keywan Riahi, Energy, Climate, and Environment Program Director, IIASA
Riahi is also a coordinating lead author in Working Group III of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.
Apart from the new systematic framework, the investigators have also designed an interactive visual tool with major contributions by Giacomo Marangoni, an Assistant Professor from Politecnico di Milano and a researcher from EIEE.
“A new data visualization method is extremely valuable when looking at multidimensional concepts such as feasibility. The tool we developed allows us to visualize our feasibility evaluations for different scenarios and to assess the sensitivity of our results to the definition of different feasibility concern thresholds,” Marangoni concluded.