Just transition is a pragmatic approach to bring people to be part of conversation

Jim Skea, Co-chair of IPCC WG3 / Professor, Imperial College London
Interview Date: October 21, 2022 Location: Imperial College London
Interviewer: Mikiko Kainuma, Tomoko Ishikawa, Aditi Khodke

Interview to Prof. Jim Skea on IPCC 6th Assessment Report: Mitigation of Climate Change

What are key messages of IPCC Assessment Report of Working Group III?

Jim Skea: Messages from IPCC Working Group I and Working Group II are overwhelmingly gloomy, and depressing. The Working Group III authors are trying consciously to send out a message to the human beings of agency over their own future, on the things that can be done in terms of mitigation. And although we’re definitely not on track for the Paris targets, there are things beginning to happen that are sort of shifting the path sending us in the right direction. Things like huge declines in renewable energy costs, the cost of batteries, and developments in policies are worth noting.

On the policy side, more than half of the world’s emissions are now covered by some kind of climate legislation. The fact that 20% of emissions are covered by carbon pricing in some form or another, even though the price may not be high enough, these different aspects indicate progress. The scope for improvement on the policy side shall include widening their scope and depth. It is necessary to acknowledge that incremental approaches won’t work; radical changes that can make a difference are needed.

Among the scholars working on climate change, abstract concepts like resilient development and pathways towards sustainability are popular. However, I prefer a more operational approach, like acknowledging the need for investment and screening whether each of the upcoming investments is leading to carbon emission reduction. Making climate action integral to building the future is crucial. Such an approach is more operational and can lead to deeper change than big concepts like pathways to sustainability.

Enabling conditions are necessary: technology, finance, and infrastructure but also social acceptability. Hence ensuring a just transition is not only about the right thing to do, but also a pragmatic approach to paying attention to equity and inclusivity, and to bringing people to be part of the conversation.


What is a scope for demand side reduction?

Jim Skea: Demand-side approaches are promising, and there is technological feasibility to reduce carbon footprint across nutrition, shelter and mobility. Measures like less flying and eating less meat can have significant carbon footprint reduction, but most people will resist such measures, so demand-side approaches need a very delicate way of nudging.

Professor Joyashree Roy and Dr Felix Creutzig emphasised that it’s not just a matter of individuals making individual choices all the time; it’s got to be reinforced by the availability pf infrastructure and technology. For example, electric vehicles need EV manufacturers and charging infrastructure.

For people to make changes in diet, the health benefits of dietary change need to be emphasized. Looking for expertise across disciplines to promote demand-side measures is necessary. For example, the health industry is much more experienced in nudging people’s behaviors than anybody in the climate mitigation field.


What is a scope for carbon pricing?

 Jim Skea: On the topic of carbon pricing, there has been a lot of deliberation among IPCC’s authors. The Fifth Assessment Report paid significant attention to carbon pricing. For the Sixth Assessment Report, we deliberately tried to tone that down a bit and emphasized that there are other policy instruments and types of interventions that will deliver the outcome of emission reduction, because carbon pricing is very sector dependent.

For example, if you’re going to sequester carbon, or carbon capture and storage, you need some kind of carbon price or device to do it, because there’s no human benefit from sticking carbon dioxide in geological storage. It is ideal if industries and big energy organisations acknowledge such underlying approaches.

On demand side approaches, carbon pricing is less effective, but regulations, standards, nudge policies, and persuasion are needed. Hence a diverse set of policy instruments are needed.

Another consideration of carbon pricing is that when you’ve got a carbon price, it doesn’t need to be embodied in a tax or a trading scheme. You could embody the implicit value of carbon into a power purchase agreement or another kind of arrangement to make things happen, which is very often the case because some technologies are at different stages of maturity.

You may want to take the earlier stage technologies and nudge them, encourage them with something that’s much more than carbon price and bring them onto the market. There is a need for a much more flexible approach. For modelers, it’s so easy to bring any carbon price. That’s why they emphasis on carbon price. Many approaches in government policies and regulations can have a similar effect as the carbon price.

Focusing on co-benefits is another key aspect, Sometimes, the benefits of clean technologies beyond climate action have been often underestimated, or even not acknowledged at all. For example, benefits due to the electrification of vehicles reduce air pollution through a reduction in non-CO2 gases. The health impact of such technology is difficult to model but is important in promoting them.


The 2023 G7 Climate, Energy and Environment Ministers’ Meeting will be held in Sapporo. The Japanese government is considering an initiative on cities. For example, could a deliberative approach like a climate citizens’ assembly be an initiative? You are one of the authors of the report titled ‘The Summary for Urban Policymakers’. To what extent do this report refer to urban scale climate action?

 Jim Skea: Though many IPCC’s authors contributed to writing it, it was not an official IPCC publication and hence did not have IPCC logo. Aromar Revi, Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), played a key role in this report. Dr Revi could be consulted for further insights on urban scale initiatives. In addition, Dr. Minal Pathak, Ahmedabad University, also actively took part.

Regarding the G7 Ministers’ Meeting in Sapporo, how about holding an online climate citizens’ assembly, for example? Over the last couple of years, we’ve learned a lot about online meetings. I wonder whether you could take advantage of some online events where we can bring a lot of people together. Maybe you can hold a small in-person event in Sapporo at the same time.


Does Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affect climate policies?

Jim Skea: The IPCC has nothing to say about Ukraine. Due to the invasion, both energy sovereignty and food sovereignty have really come up of the agenda. On the energy side, people are responding to it by putting energy sovereignty at the top of the list, which is good for climate change, because it means there are incentives to use less energy and accelerate energy efficiency programs to encourage people to use less. It also means that it will encourage renewable energy, which is much more of a domestic resource.

All the scenarios in IPCC indicate the significance of the global energy trade for climate change. Nevertheless, due to the geopolitical situation, countries with fossil fuel reserves might be on the margin of being exploited due to the higher prices and big incentives to exploit it, for market and energy security reasons. The IPCC report argues that not all of the common fossil fuel reserve bases could be exploited, so it’s a question of whose reserves stay in the ground.


Could you please advise on organizing citizen assemblies on low-carbon lifestyles?

 Jim Skea: The trick is to introduce the topic quite slowly and run it over a period. Present evidence to people first and do not try to direct them too much in terms of their opinions. But what I think is quite striking is the way that people who were either skeptical or hadn’t really thought the issues through, really changed their points of view. During the process, we were going to expose all the evidence about the impacts of climate change, what occurs, and what might occur in the future. As for the Scottish Climate Assembly, the recommendations from bottom-up initiatives are far more ambitious than politicians were proposing — sitting back and letting it happen “like putting a pan on the stove and heating it up?”

Cultural considerations are also key, and it is not possible to move one model from one culture to another. Examining the evidence of Open Justice and Citizen’s participation in the Judiciary system can provide some insights into participatory processes in Japan.

Many transitions are beyond the scope of city governance because cities only have a certain degree of agency, they can’t do everything. Often hence city governments only focus on transport-related issues. The prefectural government in Japan could be instrumental in organising initiatives like citizen climate assemblies.

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