This article is written by Inès Bakhtaoui.
On October 8th 2018 was published the IPCC 1.5°C special report, with a very strong reaction from civil society. This report gives an alarming picture shot of the current and future perspectives of reaching the 1.5°C target set by UNFCCC. Although the goal is still achievable, it is now more than ever urgent to take effective action, and drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Inès from CliMates’ Negotiation Tracking Team explains the situation and why it is urgent to act at all levels of society now.
What is the IPCC 1.5°C special report?
Early October, government representatives and scientists gathered in Incheon, South Korea to review and publish a new summary for policymakers, following the drafting of a report written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This independent body of the United Nations provides objective and reliable data on climate change, that is used to support the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
In December 2015, the international community came to a historical agreement signed in Paris during COP21, of limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels (i.e. before the 21st century), with the incentive of reaching 1.5°C. That same year, the UNFCCC requested the IPCC to produce a special report concerning the 1.5°C target to be published in 2018 . This report details the current situation in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the scenarios developed to reach the 1.5°C target, and describes the possible consequences of global warming on our societies, our economies and ecosystems.
Why is the 2°C target not acceptable?
Based on the IPCC calculations, greenhouse effect provoked by past and current carbon emissions will already be responsible for a global warming of 1°C. Any additional degree will dramatically increase the long-term consequences of climate change. The situation closes the door to a safe and desirable world. Temperature will increase for centuries to millennials, with long-term unpredictable impacts on our environment.
Following the 1.5°C target, sea level will rise of around 0.1 meter lower than with the 2°C target by 2100. Human and ecological coastal systems are jeopardized by sea level rise. In particular, small islands appear to be the most vulnerable, while not being responsible for the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. Truth is that a 0.5°C cooler system can make the difference for these populations.
This trend is the same for every risk related to global warming. Humanity is facing a high uncertainty concerning the world of tomorrow. Droughts, extreme water events, urban heatwaves, oceans acidification, diseases, water stress,, economic failures – this is a non-exhaustive list of consequences we will have to face in the coming years. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C is the only way to reduce the risks and intensity of such events.
Is the 1.5°C target still achievable?
The good news of this report is that the 1.5°C is still achievable. Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III declared:
“Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes”.
Let’s have a look at our current and past emissions of greenhouse gases. Since preindustrial times until 2010, humanity has emitted around 2200 Gt of CO2. Following the most catastrophic scenario, the IPCC has estimated that we are still allowed to emit around 420 Gt of CO2 in order to have a 66% of chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. In one century, we have already used 84% of our total carbon stock. Currently, we produce around 42 Gt of CO2 per year. Therefore, in a business as usual scenario, we have until 2030 before it is too late.
The problem is that we are not on track to reach the 1.5°C – nor the 2°C target. After the 2015 Paris summit, all countries have submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – a national climate change set of measures for the post-2020 era. NDCs are voluntary based and are supposed to be reviewed every 5 years. Pathways consistent with the current nationally stated ambitions for 2030 would lead to a global warming of about 3°C by 2100, with warming continuing afterward. Such an increase of temperature would result in disastrous large-scale catastrophes. The IPCC report is a warning from the scientific community, that urges Parties to enhance their ambitions for their future contributions to the UNFCCC Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
According to the IPCC scenario, reaching the 1.5°C target would require a decrease by 45% of our 2010 CO2 emissions by 2030. The world should be carbon neutral by 2050. This scenario is extremely ambitious and requires immediate strong action from civil society, as well as the public and private sectors. Technologies needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change are known and available. They are as broad as renewable energies, sustainable farming and land-use, effective urban and transport management, carbon removal technologies, afforestation and reforestation. However, governments and actors from the private sector are too slow in their transition ambitions and actions.
How to take action?
After this summer’s heat waves, a massive awakening to climate issues has been observed all over the world. During the Global Day for Climate Action – on September the 8th – civil society has realized the emergency of the situation and requires immediate action from our leaders. Outcomes of the IPCC 1.5°C special report have largely been covered by the media, and marches have been organized all around the world. It is essential to keep organizing and attending local events, to communicate on the subject and to question our daily habits, in order to reduce our environmental impact.
Offering a sustainable and desirable future to next generations means taking action immediately. Past generations have used our planet’s resources and jeopardized our future.. Our generation isthe first to face the consequences of global warming. We are the last generation aware of climate change, that can still prevent it. We are the citizens of tomorrow and we want to live in a sustainable society. This is why this report is even more essential for us as it concretely proves that, more than ever, leaders and policymakers need to align their policies with the messages spread by actors from the civil society, including the Youth.
For the upcoming COP24, stakes are high as the world leaders need to agree on the rulebook that will operationalize the Paris Agreement, and therefore concretely allow us to reach (or not) the 1.5 degree target. We urge Parties to listen to our voice and our messages and to give birth to an ambitious rulebook that will instigate durable and transformative changes in countries with concrete outcomes, such as legislative reforms or policy reforms.
This idea is making its way in the international arenas. At the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), the “call to action” of world leaders was presented to the UN Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, in a symbolic gesture to illustrate that it is future generations who will be most affected by the decisions of the current generation to build a better, more resilient world. However, we want more than symbolic gestures.
We want action.
As it is our future that is at stake.
About the author: Inès Bakhtaoui is a French Master student in Climate Change Management and Finance. After studying renewable energy engineering, she left France to move to London, and get more insight in sustainability policy and business issues. She attended United Nations negotiation sessions on Climate Change. A member of the Negotracking team, she follows technology and science-related topics, and contributes to education on negotiation processes and sustainable technologies.