I have the great honor to be selected to serve on the IPCC as lead author of the fifth assessment report. It has always been my desire to contribute to addressing environmental problems. Climate Science is fascinating – the ways scientists have found to tease out evidence about past climate are amazing. It is scary to see how the various pieces of the puzzle – not all of them yet found or correctly placed – provide an increasingly complete and compelling picture that – in rich and unforeseen detail –confirms the basic physics laid out by the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius 110 years ago.
My task is to contribute to the volume on Climate Change Mitigation – how to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases as to limit climate change to a not-too-disruptive level (IPCC WG3). Specifically, I am selected to serve as lead author to the chapter on energy systems. The selection comes somewhat as I surprise – my group has become a leader in another aspect, connecting the emissions of greenhouse gases to the ultimate causes of their emissions – the goods and services enjoyed by final consumers. This topic would have fit to other chapters. My qualification for the chapter on energy systems comes from work on the life-cycle assessment of various energy conversion technologies, such asbioenergy, wind power and fossil fuels with CO2 capture and storage. For the nomination, I suggested that life-cycle environmental impacts need to be addressed for the full scale at which the technologies will be implemented. ‘Impacts’ should include resource requirements, pollution, and a quantification of net-greenhouse gas benefits. I plan to draw heavily on the expertise of my collaborators and my colleagues at NTNU.
Without prejudging the outcome of our work, my impression is that assessments so far have ignored some of the environmental costs of climate-friendly technologies. They have thus been overly optimistic regarding the prospects of technologies – the degree of mitigation that can be offered and the associated costs. I am not yet satisfied about the scientific information available on the environmental impacts and resource requirements of those technologies compared to resource availabilities. It is premature to judge the effect of these limitations. This information is important because resource and environmental factors must be considered in our decisions about what energy technologies to develop and deploy.
Knowledge gaps regarding the constraints and costs of climate mitigation technologies illustrate that details of climate mitigation have not yet received the required level of attention, compared to the science of the greenhouse effect or the economic assessment of whether to mitigate or not. The research investment has been smaller, as it can easily be seen from just the references in the three different volumes of the IPCC’s 4th assessment report. Technology development is finally receiving more focus, but is still not at an adequate level especially when it comes to large-scale demonstration and deployment. Mitigation science, however, is developing rapidly and I am optimistic about the prospect of offering important, interesting insights to the world once the 5th assessment report will be published in 2013.