Next Decade Will Determine if We Can Stop Global Warming at 1.5ºC, Says IPCC
Some of the co-authors confer with IPCC Vice-Chair Ko Barrett (centre) before the adoption of the report over the weekend.

The world will heat up by at least 1.5ºC by the 2030s – and our best hope is that global warming does not “go blasting” way beyond this point, according to scientists from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC released its sixth synthesis report on climate change in Interlaken in Switzerland on Monday after a two-day extension of its four-day meeting – largely because of disagreements from various UN member states about how to frame the temperature increases.

“Emissions should be decreasing by now and will need to be cut by almost half by 2030 if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C,” the report warns, referring to the temperature target adopted by most countries in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

But global greenhouse emissions have increased by 54% between 1990 and 2019, and the world is already 1.1ºC warmer now than it was in the pre-industrial era (1850-1900). 

In the past year, the world emitted more carbon dioxide than in any other year on records dating to 1900. One of the reasons was the Russia-Ukraine war, which caused a resurgence in coal use by Western nations to replace Russian gas.

The world’s two biggest polluters, the US and China, show few signs of slowing emissions. The US recently approved a massive new oil drilling project in Alaska called Willow that will produce 260 million tons of carbon dioxide,  equal to the annual output of 66 American coal plants. Meanwhile, China has approved over one hundred new coal plants.

“Keeping warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels requires deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors,” warned IPCC chair Hoesung Lee.

Political will and public support will determine whether the world reduces global warming, Lee added, but warned that “we are walking when we should be sprinting”.

IPCC chairperson Hoesung Lee

Co-author Dr Peter Thorne said that “almost irrespective of our emissions choices in the near term, we will probably reach I.5ºC in the first half of the next decade”. 

“The real question is whether our will to reduce emissions quickly means we reach 1.5ºC, maybe go a little bit over, but then come back down or whether we go blasting through 1.5ºC, go through even 2ºC and keep on going, so the future really is in our hands,” warned Thorne.

“We will, in all probability, reach around 1.5ºC early next decade, but after that, it really is our choice. This is why this the rest of this decade is key. The rest of this decade is whether we can apply the brakes and stop the warming at that level.”

Wrong direction

Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation, warned that all indicators were “going in the wrong direction” – temperature, ocean warming, melting ice and rising sea level.

Taalas urged countries to invest in early warning services, describing them as “one of the best ways to mitigate climate risk.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to countries to stop expanding their coal, oil and gas projects, saying that limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require a “quantum leap in climate action”. 

Three to six times the current spending on climate adaptation and mitigation is needed to achieve targets, said Indian economist Dr Dipak Dasgupta, one of the report’s co-authors.

“Governments can do more with the public finances,” said Dasgupta. “And the financial system itself – the banks, the central banks or regulators themselves – have to start recognising the urgency and pricing in the risks.”

Another co-author, Dr Aditi Mukherji, also warned that once the world reached a certain temperature, it would be less possible for countries and communities to adapt.

IPCC report co-author, Dr Aditi Mukherji (left).

“Almost half of the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change. In the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions,“ she stressed.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Agency, said that the report tells us “we are very, very close to 1.5 degree limit and that even this limit is not safe for people and for planet”. 

“Climate change is throwing its hardest punches at the most vulnerable communities who  bear the least responsibility, as we just saw with Cyclone Freddy in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar, and as we saw with flash floods in Turkey just recently,” said Andersen.

 “We must turn down the heat. We must help vulnerable communities to adapt to those impacts of climate change that are already here.”

Climate-resilient development

The report proposes “climate-resilient development” as the solution, including clean energy,  low-carbon electrification, and walking and cycling as preferred methods of public transport to enhance air quality and improve health.

Lee added that there is “a great deal of room for improvement in the energy efficiencies”, and energy consumption can be reduced by 40 to 70% in some sectors over the next two decades”. 

But “climate-resilient development becomes progressively more challenging with every increment of warming”, warns the report.

“The greatest gains in wellbeing could come from prioritizing climate risk reduction for low-income and marginalised communities, including people living in informal settlements,” said Christopher Trisos, one of the report’s authors. “Accelerated climate action will only come about if there is a many-fold increase in finance. Insufficient and misaligned finance is holding back progress.”

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen

Meanwhile, UNEP’s Andersen said that the global community already has the solutions: “Renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, energy efficiency, green transport, green urban infrastructure, halting deforestation, ecosystem restoration, sustainable food systems,  including reduced food loss and waste.”  i

“Investing in these areas will help to stabilise our climate, reduce nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste,” she stressed.

Image Credits: Anastasia Rodopoulou IISD/ ENB .

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