At a recent summit in Korea of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists and researchers presented a 33-page report with a recommendation that global warming needs to be controlled to the extent of not allowing temperatures to increase by more than 1.5° above pre-industrial levels.

The Summary for Policymakers is a result of three years of research and haggling between scientists and government officials, with the scientists making the declaration that this is the “final call” on the risk of continuing rising temperatures.

The Warning

For decades the world has been trying to reach a compromise between living standards and economics (a governmental stance) and the increase in global temperatures. The scientists have warned that the world is at the risk of climatic disaster with temperatures careering towards 3° above pre-industrial levels.

The Risks

The risks of increasing global temperatures affects natural, human, and managed systems. The report identified the level of risk at three specific temperature increases over pre-industrial levels as follows:

The Arctic

  • 2°C – very high risk
  • 5°C – high risk
  • 87°C – moderate risk

Coral Reefs

  • 2°C – very high risk
  • 5°C – very high risk
  • 87°C – high risk

Small Scale Fisheries

  • 2°C – high risk
  • 5°C – high risk
  • 87°C – moderate risk

Mangrove Forests

  • 2°C – moderate
  • 5°C – moderate
  • 87°C – undetectable

Tourism

  • 2°C – moderate
  • 5°C – moderate
  • 87°C – moderate

Previous thinking is that if the world maintained the increase in global temperature to under 2°C above the pre-industrial levels, global warning would be manageable in the 21st century. These are the figures that were accepted in the Paris Agreement on climate change. This new report however, states that the world could breach the benchmark 1.5°C increase by the year 2030.

A separate report for the Stockholm Resilience Centre has identified that at 2°C increase there are risks such as:

  • The ice around the Artic could melt. This is a vicious circle because less ice means less heat reflected away from the earth, further accelerating global warning
  • Rising sea levels could see the loss of low-lying islands such as The Maldives and Kiribati (and other South Pacific islands)
  • Changes in the water cycle can lead to floods and droughts
  • Increase in the number of species at threat of extinction due to loss of habitat and climate change.
  • A severe reduction in the production of chocolate because cacao production would be severely hampered

 

The Solution

The report suggests the world needs to work towards limiting the increase in temperatures to under 1.5° with even this meaning “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Professor Jim Skea, the Co-chairman of the IPCC stated “… limiting warming to 1.5C brings a lot of benefits compared with limiting it to two degrees. It really reduces the impacts of climate change in very important ways.”

He went on to say – by way of providing insight into the new study – that to achieve a limit in the increase to 1.5°C, it would need unprecedented changes to energy systems, land management, and transportation.

To achieve this, governments and individuals need to make urgent, large-scale changes. A huge amount of investment is required with the estimate of the monetary figure being ~2.5% of global gross domestic product for two decades. That is 2.5% of the value of all the goods and services produced in the world for 20 years. In real terms, the annual average investment in the world’s energy systems needs to be around $2.4 trillion” between 2016 and 2035.

The report details 5 Steps to 1.5°C

  • A reduction on global emissions of CO² of 45% (from 2010 levels) by 2030
  • Global net zero emissions by 2050
  • 85% global electricity produced by renewable sources by 2050
  • Coal use to be close to zero
  • 7 million KM² land (an area a bit smaller than Australia) given over to the production of energy crops

Even though individuals must play their part by reducing their own carbon footprint, reducing energy wastage, and being more environmentally conscious, the future is in the hands of world leaders and politicians. The study has shown that achieving the 2°C target by 2030 set by the Paris Agreement is not enough.

The alternative is finding better and more ways to remove carbon from the air to and store it permanently underground – in reality, probably a more costly exercise than the measures to reduce global warning.

Is time running out? Governments must either decide to act immediately or disagree with the findings of the report.