IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

14 Gaps in knowledge

Gaps in knowledge refer to two aspects of climate change mitigation:

  • Where additional data collection, modelling and analysis could narrow knowledge gaps, and the resulting improved knowledge and empirical experience could assist decision-making on climate change mitigation measures and policies; to some extent, these gaps are reflected in the uncertainty statements in this report.
  • Where research and development could improve mitigation technologies and/or reduce their costs. This important aspect is not treated in this section, but is addressed in the chapters where relevant.

Emission data sets and projections

Despite a wide variety of data sources and databases underlying this report, there are still gaps in accurate and reliable emission data by sector and specific processes, especially with regard to non-CO2 GHGs, organic or black carbon, and CO2 from various sources, such as deforestation, decay of biomass and peat fires. Consistent treatment of non-CO2 GHGs in the methodologies underlying scenarios for future GHG emissions is often lacking [Chapters 1 and 3].

Links between climate change and other policies

A key innovation of this report is the integrated approach between the assessment of climate change mitigation and wider development choices, such as the impacts of (sustain-able) development policies on GHG-emission levels and vice versa.

However, there is still a lack of empirical evidence on the magnitude and direction of the interdependence and interaction of sustainable development and climate change, of mitigation and adaptation relationships in relation to development aspects, and the equity implications of both. The literature on the linkages between mitigation and sustainable development and, more particularly, on how to capture synergies and minimize trade-offs, taking into account state, market and civil society’s role, is still sparse. New research is required into the linkages between climate change and national and local policies (including but not limited to energy security, water, health, air pollution, forestry, agriculture) that might lead to politically feasible, economically attractive and environmentally beneficial outcomes. It would also be helpful to elaborate potential development paths that nations and regions can pursue, which would provide links between climate protection and development issues. Inclusion of macro-indicators for sustainable development that can track progress could support such analysis [Chapters 2, 12 and 13].

Studies of costs and potentials

The available studies of mitigation potentials and costs differ in their methodological treatment and do not cover all sectors, GHGs or countries. Because of different assumptions, for example, with respect to the baseline and definitions of potentials and costs, their comparability is often limited. Also, the number of studies on mitigation costs, potentials and instruments for countries belonging to Economies in Transition and most developing regions is smaller than for developed and selected (major) developing countries.

This report compares costs and mitigation potentials based on bottom-up data from sectoral analyses with top-down costs and potential data from integrated models. The match at the sectoral level is still limited, partly because of lack of or incomplete data from bottom-up studies and differences in sector definitions and baseline assumptions. There is a need for integrated studies that combine top-down and bottom-up elements [Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10].

Another important gap is the knowledge on spill-over effects (the effects of domestic or sectoral mitigation measures on other countries or sectors). Studies indicate a large range (leakage effects[20] from implementation of the Kyoto Protocol of between 5 and 20% by 2010), but are lacking an empirical basis. More empirical studies would be helpful [Chapter 11].

The understanding of future mitigation potentials and costs depends not only on the expected impact of RD&D on technology performance characteristics but also on ‘technology learning’, technology diffusion and transfer which are often not taken into account in mitigation studies. The studies on the influence of technological change on mitigation costs mostly have a weak empirical basis and are often conflicting.

Implementation of a mitigation potential may compete with other activities. For instance, the biomass potentials are large, but there may be trade-offs with food production, forestry or nature conservation. The extent to which the biomass potential can be deployed over time is still poorly understood.

In general, there is a continued need for a better understanding of how rates of adoption of climate-mitigation technologies are related to national and regional climate and non-climate policies, market mechanisms (investments, changing consumer preferences), human behaviour and technology evolution, change in production systems, trade and finance and institutional arrangements.

  1. ^  Carbon leakage is an aspect of spill-overs and is the increase in CO2 emissions outside countries taking domestic measures divided by the emission reductions in these countries.