Climate Change 2001:
Working Group III: Mitigation
Other reports in this collection

3.4 The Technological and Economic Potential of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation: Synthesis

Global emissions of GHGs grew on average by 1.4% per year during the period 1990 to 1998. In many areas, technical progress relevant to GHG emission reduction since the SAR has been significant and faster than anticipated. The total potential for worldwide GHG emissions reductions resulting from technological developments and their adoption amount to 1,900 to 2,600MtC/yr by 2010, and 3,600 to 5,050MtC/yr by 2020. The evidence on which this conclusion is based is extensive, but has several limitations. No comprehensive worldwide study of technological potential has yet been done, and the existing regional and national studies generally have varying scopes and make different assumptions about key parameters. Therefore, the estimates as presented in Table TS.1 should be considered to be indicative only. Nevertheless, the main conclusion in the paragraph above can be drawn with high confidence.

Costs of options vary by technology and show regional differences. Half of the potential emissions reductions may be achieved by 2020 with direct benefits (energy saved) exceeding direct costs (net capital, operating, and maintenance costs), and the other half at a net direct cost of up to US$100/tCeq (at 1998 prices). These cost estimates are derived using discount rates in the range of 5% to 12%, consistent with public sector discount rates. Private internal rates of return vary greatly, and are often significantly higher, which affects the rate of adoption of these technologies by private entities. Depending on the emissions scenario this could allow global emissions to be reduced below 2000 levels in 2010-2020 at these net direct costs. Realizing these reductions will involve additional implementation costs, which in some cases may be substantial, and will possibly need supporting policies (such as those described in Section 6), increased research and development, effective technology transfer, and other barriers to be overcome (Section 5 for details).

Hundreds of technologies and practices exist to reduce GHG emissions from the buildings, transport, and industry sectors. These energy efficiency options are responsible for more than half of the total emission reduction potential of these sectors. Efficiency improvements in material use (including recycling) will also become more important in the longer term. The energy supply and conversion sector will remain dominated by cheap and abundant fossil fuels. However, there is significant emission reduction potential thanks to a shift from coal to natural gas, conversion efficiency improvement of power plants, the expansion of distributed co-generation plants in industry, commercial buildings and institutions, and CO2 recovery and sequestration. The continued use of nuclear power plants (including their lifetime extension), and the application of renewable energy sources could avoid some additional emissions from fossil fuel use. Biomass from by-products and wastes such as landfill gas are potentially important energy sources that can be supplemented by energy crop production where suitable land and water are available. Wind energy and hydropower will also contribute, more so than solar energy because of its relatively high costs. N2O and fluorinated GHG reductions have already been achieved through major technological advances. Process changes, improved containment and recovery, and the use of alternative compounds and technologies have been implemented. Potential for future reductions exists, including process-related emissions from insulated foam and semiconductor production and by-product emissions from aluminium and HCFC-22. The potential for energy efficiency improvements connected to the use of fluorinated gases is of a similar magnitude to reductions of direct emissions. Soil carbon sequestration, enteric CH4 control, and conservation tillage can all contribute to mitigating GHG emissions from agriculture.

Appropriate policies are required to realize these potentials. Furthermore, on-going research and development is expected to significantly widen the portfolio of technologies that provide emission reduction options. Maintaining these R&D activities together with technology transfer actions will be necessary if the longer term potential as outlined in Table TS.1 is to be realized. Balancing mitigation activities in the various sectors with other goals, such as those related to DES, is key to ensuring they are effective.

Other reports in this collection