Insights into Editorial: Another warning on warming
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a special report on global warming of 1.5°C over pre-industrial temperatures.
IPCC provides details on how the global response to climate change needs to be strengthened within the broader context of sustainable development and continuing efforts to eradicate poverty.
The impacts of 1.5°C of warming and the possible development pathways by which the world could get there are its main focus.
It was in 2015, at the Paris climate conference, that the global community made a pact to pursue efforts to limit warming to within 1.5°C — half a degree below the previous target of 2°C.
With the increase in extreme events and the very survival of small islands at stake, the lower limit was greeted then with surprise and enthusiasm.
Why there is so much concern between 1.5°C and 2°C:
- For most people, the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C may seem trivial when daily temperatures fluctuate much more widely.
- However, the reference here is to global average temperatures. Different regions of the earth will warm at different rates. For instance, the Arctic is already experiencing warming that is many times higher than the global average.
- As per those reports, if the temperature goes beyond 2°C, then, the impacts of climate change could be irreversible and catastrophic.
- Mainly, small island nations and least developed nations are likely to suffer the most and hence, they asked for the goal to restrict the temperature rise to even within 1.5°C.
- The sea levels are expected to rise on an average by about 50 cms by 2100, when the World is warmer by 2°C.
- But, beyond 2100, the overall propensity for much higher sea level rise is greater in 2°C World.
- The risks to food security, health, fresh water, human security, livelihoods and economic growth are already on the rise and will be worse in a 2°C World.
- The number of people exposed to complex and compounded risks will also increase, mostly poorer countries in Asia and Africa will suffer the worst.
- This requires massive deployment of financial and technological resources.
- If nations do not mount a strenuous response against climate change, average global temperatures, which have already crossed 1°C, are likely to cross the 1.5°C mark around 2040.
- The window of opportunity to take action is very small and closing fast.
Several mitigation pathways to achieve these reductions and all of them incorporate different levels of CO2 removal:
There are many synergies between achieving mitigation targets and fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals.
To stay below 1.5°C, the transitions required by energy systems and human societies, in land use, transport, and infrastructure, would have to be rapid and on an unprecedented scale with deep emission reductions.
How is the remaining carbon budget, that is the room available in the atmosphere to safely contain more CO2, going to be shared among different countries?
This is a difficult question to address. The U.S. also reiterated its intent to pull out of the Paris Agreement. It has been reported, for instance, that the U.S. has been obstructionist in the deliberations at the recent meeting to determine the final text of this IPCC report.
Contributions from the U.S. and other rich countries to the Green Climate Fund and other funding mechanisms for the purpose of mitigation and adaptation are vital even to reach the goals of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) commitments that each country made prior to the Paris conference.
Even if all the NDCs are implemented, the world is expected to warm by over 3°C.
Pathways and polices in Way Ahead:
The IPCC report identifies two main strategies.
- The first stabilises global temperature around the 5°C mark with limited overshoot and
- The second permits temperatures to exceed 1.5°C temporarily before coming back down. The consequences of the temporary overshoot would cause worse impacts than the first approach.
To limit warming to around 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot, global net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around mid-century.
To limit warming to the lower temperature goal, the world needs “rapid and far-reaching” changes in energy systems, land use, city and industrial design, transportation and building use.
Emissions of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, also will have to drop. Switching away rapidly from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas to do this could be three to four times more expensive than the less ambitious goal, but it would clean the air of other pollutants.
And that would have the side benefit of avoiding more than 100 million premature deaths through this century, the IPCC report mentioned this also.
In comparison, to limit warming to just below 2°C, the reductions needed are about 20% by 2030 and reach net zero around 2075.
The IPCC report stated that Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.
Disputes over the implementation of the Paris Agreement at numerous meetings depict the deep divides among rich countries, emerging economies and least developed countries.
For scientists there is a bit of “wishful thinking” that the report will spur governments and people to act quickly and strongly, one of the panel’s leaders, German biologist Hans-Otto Portner, said, “If action is not taken it will take the planet into an unprecedented climate future.”
This special report (IPCC report) poses options for the global community of nations, which they will have to contend with in Poland, the next Conference of the Parties.
Each will have to decide whether to play politics on a global scale for one’s own interests or to collaborate to protect the world and its ecosystems as a whole. The path forward offers no simple or easy solutions.