Climate Action, COP24 - Katowice

Careful, don’t step over the line of 1.5°C

The urgency of climate action in the preparation of COP24

This article is written by Birte Kurbjeweit.

With the Paris Agreement governments worldwide have committed themselves to keep global warming “well below 2°C” and to aim for 1.5°C. The latter, tougher goal was a victory for small island states and other countries at the forefront of climate change impacts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has now published the first draft of its special report on the chances for and impacts of a 1.5°C global warming. The draft report has been published as a first version to be reviewed by experts and policymakers and is thus subject to change. Consequently, the conclusions drawn from this leaked report have to be considered in this regard. The final report will be released in September 2018. What consequences can be drawn from the evidence in this report for the 48th Sessions of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies taking place from April 30th till May 10th in Bonn? Which action is needed?

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So far, the content of the report makes very clear that there is not much time left to achieve the 1.5°C target. The report reveals just how close we are to stepping over the line of 1.5°C. The world has already on average warmed by 1°C since preindustrial times (1850-1900). Accordingly, much regions have warmed much more than this and others less, and equally, some regions will cross the line sooner than others. It is estimated, however, that with business as usual, temperatures will pass 1.5°C in the 2040s. As if this was not challenging enough, the report furthermore stresses that even the achievement of the 1.5°C goal would have risky consequences, as current droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events show. Nevertheless, evidently a higher temperature increase like 2°C would have even more drastic impacts, affecting the hardest poor and coastal communities.

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The report further states that to achieve 1.5°C, both sharp emission cuts and negative emissions are needed at a level that “require[s] more planning, coordination and disruptive innovation across actors and scales of governance than the spontaneous or coincidental changes observed in the past.” Even if the necessary actions were taken, it needs to be kept in mind that all models predicting temperature change and warming impacts are probabilistic and effects might indeed be much worse than predicted. Additionally, temperatures are likely to over-shoot the target at first before cooling down again, leaving some irreversible damages. Another tricky factor is the clashing with other SDGs, for example hunger, if all efforts are directed towards climate change. The report however does not indicate whether bioenergy demand or 2°C warming imposes a greater threat to food supply. Finally, it is stated that the 1.5°C target cannot be achieved without profound behavioural changes, both with regards to consumption as well as institutional.

The purpose of the 48th session is to further advance the implementation of the Convention and the Paris Agreement and prepare the COP24 to be held in December 2018. More concretely, the 48th session has among others the task to consider usefulness of and options for common time frames for nationally determined contributions. Considering the urgency to take climate action expressed by the report, common time frames could significantly harmonize international efforts and allow for a more comprehensive overview of taken and insufficient actions as well as good practices. This comparability would furthermore allow to build pressure on countries with rather weak contributions, which is crucial considering the importance of climate action.

All member states to the Paris Agreement are called to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions:

The 48th session moreover has the mandate to work on different actions that will help to mitigate global warming, such as work on forestry, agriculture and a work programme for least developed countries. What is crucial however for the fruitfulness of any such effort is development and transfer of technologies to equip developing countries with the necessary capacities to take meaningful climate action. Considering the US position during the last UN General Assembly, transfer of technologies will not be an easily negotiated topic at the 48th session and the COP24. Nevertheless, it will be of the utmost importance that developed countries support developing countries in climate change mitigation to have a chance to achieve the 1.5°C target. The outcome of the 48th session will be an important indicator for the success of COP24. The key massage of the IPCC draft report is that if there is a chance to limit global warming to 1.5°C, this is only possible with joint forces.

About the author: Birte Kurbjeweit is currently a master student of International Development at Sciences Po in Paris with a focus on climate politics. Before moving to France, she did a Bachelor degree in European Studies at the University of Southern Denmark in Sonderborg, Denmark. Having always been fascinated by foreign places and cultures, Birte wants to work to preserve the richness of what our Earth has to offer and enable at the same time other people the possibility to enjoy the same.

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