How Global Warming Will Change the World: The IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5 Degrees

 

By Dennis Mombauer

 

This week in Incheon, the IPCC will finalize and release its most comprehensive and critical report on climate change for years to come. Its findings will show the profound impacts on human life and the decisive actions necessary to keep global temperature rise below 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius. If the world as we know it is to survive climate change, this report is required reading for everyone.

 

Climate change is real. Its impacts cannot be overstated, and they do not wait in the future or hide in far-flung reaches of the globe. Climate change is happening now and happening everywhere, from developing to developed nations, from North to South and East to West.

The 2015 Paris Agreement has set the governments of the world on a path of mitigation and adaptation, and the Conference of the Parties (COP24) in December 2018 will assess their collective commitments (the Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) and efforts.

Global Warming: 1.5 Versus 2 Degrees

The key goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the rise of global mean temperatures below 2 and ideally below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Since the 1850s, the world has already passed 1 degree of global warming, and things are about to get much worse if tipping points are reached and impacts become irreversible. All current commitments made under the Paris Agreement will together still lead to a global warming of over 3 degrees by the end of the century.

Anything more than a 1.5-degree rise could lead to catastrophic impacts around the globe. Climate change poses an existential threat to billions of people, many of them in the poorest regions of the world: from island nations swallowed by the sea to flooded coastal megacities, extreme storms, mass displacement, and droughts that will cripple agricultural production and turn vast lands into desert.

The disparities between a 1.5- and a 2-degree scenario are immense. With 1.5 degrees, only half the number of people around the globe will suffer from heat extremes and water scarcity; the risk of heavy precipitation decreases by one third; and sea levels will rise by 10 cm less till 2100, a difference of life and death for many small island states.

A Report of Critical Importance

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meets this week (October 1-5) in Incheon, South Korea to finalize its “Special Report on 1.5 Degrees”. Scientists and government delegates from around the world will go word by word through the 15-page summary and agree on a final version that the IPCC will publish on October 8th, three days after the session.

86 lead authors from 39 countries, nominated by governments and institutions, have compiled this report over more than two years. They have evaluated an extremely wide range of literature and cite over 6,000 references in the report. Their findings rest on the broadest possible consensus and are beyond doubt.

While the exact wording of the report will only be published on October 8th, its cornerstones are already known. The report is expected to say that the target of 1.5 degrees will require much more drastic steps to be achieved. Cuts to CO2 emissions, a rapid move to renewable energy, changes in lifestyle and consumption, and possibly a technological effort to scrub greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere will be among the main actions recommended by the report.

Keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees is still possible, and given the findings on the 2-degree scenario and the enormous differences to the 1.5-degree one, it has never been more essential to try everything in our power to do so.

Outlook

Whether global warming reaches 1.5, 2, or 3.5 degrees, the world will change dramatically over the next decades. There cannot be a neutral stance on climate change, only different courses of action.

If the signatories to the Paris Agreement want to keep true to their ambitions and achieve their stated goals, they will need to commit to urgent and far-reaching actions at the December conference in Katowice, Poland. Climate change mitigation is now the highest priority for the world and requires political, economic, technological, social, and personal efforts to succeed.

The IPCC report will be the most comprehensive and critical report on climate change for years to come. Its findings will show the profound impacts on human life and the decisive actions necessary to keep global temperature rise below 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius. If the world as we know it is to survive climate change, this report is required reading for everyone.

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