What the sixth IPCC assessment on climate change means for the AD industry

Unless we rapidly cut emissions to net-zero, global temperatures will continue to rise, is the headline from the sixth IPCC assessment on climate change, which was released in August 2021.

In response, the World Biogas Association (WBA) is urging policy makers to recognise that anaerobic digestion (AD) technology provides an immediate solution to rapidly reduce methane emissions. In the UK, AD and Bioresources Association (ADBA) is recommending the removal of policy barriers and introduction of a framework to enable the country’s AD industry to achieve the potential 6% greenhouse gas emissions reduction which is possible by 2030.

What does the sixth IPCC assessment on climate change tell us?

The latest IPCC assessment on climate change reveals that human-caused global heating reached 1°C above pre-industrial levels in 2017[1] and the increase is expected to reach 1.5°C by the early 2030s.

Unlike previous reports, the latest IPCC assessment on climate change confirms that increasingly severe weather is unarguably due to human-caused global heating. It also concludes that global temperatures will be increased between 1.4°C and 4.4°C by the end of the century, depending on how quickly greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reduced.

The impact of methane on global warming

Methane has 28 times the warming potential than carbon dioxide (CO2)[2]. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) have recommended a rapid reduction in methane emissions to take immediate and cost-effective action to avert climate catastrophe[3].

How can AD help tackle climate change

Anaerobic digestion can generate biomethane and organic fertiliser from organic materials. Often, this makes use of waste materials like manure, crop residues or food waste, which, if left to break down on their own, would release methane directly into the atmosphere. By processing the organic materials in an anaerobic digestor, the release of methane can be averted while producing renewable energy.

AD also provides a route to decarbonisation of the economy while continuing to use existing infrastructure. For example, biomethane is already used in the UK’s gas grid as it is chemically the same as natural gas, so can be used in boilers to heat homes.

Next steps for the AD industry

The IPCC report highlights the need for a rapid emissions reduction to minimise global warming. AD technology can play a major part in contributing towards this target. Globally, AD can reduce GHG emissions by 10-13%[4]. In the UK, it could deliver 30% of the country’s carbon budget by 2030, but according to ADBA the industry needs a policy environment which is conducive to new plants  being built and to all AD facilities receiving a fair price for energy produced[5].

Privilege Finance’s Chris Winward adds that a long-term approach will be needed to ensure policies promote the development of a circular economy in which nothing is wasted and greenhouse gas emissions are vastly reduced.

“We want to see policies introduced which provide clear action and outcomes, which will mitigate risk and attract greater investment. For example, this may mean legislation around food waste recycling, which specifies it should be processed to produce green energy.”

[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

[2] https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-a-new-way-to-assess-global-warming-potential-of-short-lived-pollutants

[3] https://www.farming.co.uk/news/anaerobic-digestion-overlooked-as-immediate-mitigation-solution-warns-global-trade-body-

[4] World Biogas Association | Global Potential of Biogas

[5] ADBA launches Biomethane – the pathway to 2030 report | ADBA | Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (adbioresources.org)