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Climate report: achieving 1.5°C target requires "unprecedented changes in all aspects of society"

Tue 09 October 2018 | Back to news list

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C now requires rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said in a major new report, just released. The Panel says that limiting warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C "could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society".

The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C was approved at a meeting in Korea and will provide key scientific input into the Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland in December, when governments review the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.

Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I said: "One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes."

The report highlights key climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared with 2°C, or more. By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade at 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2°C.

The summary report for policymakers says that limiting global warming would also give people and ecosystems more chance to adapt and remain below relevant risk thresholds.

"The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate," said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I.

However, the report finds that limiting warming to 1.5°C would require "rapid and far-reaching" transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching 'net zero' around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.

"Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes," said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

If we allow global temperature to temporarily exceed or 'overshoot' 1.5°C that would mean a greater reliance on unproven techniques to remove CO2 from the air to return global temperature to below 1.5°C by 2100.

The IPCC is the leading world body for assessing the science related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options.

The report was prepared under the scientific leadership of all three IPCC working groups:

  • Working Group I assesses the physical science basis of climate change;
  • Working Group II addresses impacts, adaptation and vulnerability;
  • Working Group III deals with the mitigation of climate change.

The Paris Agreement, which was adopted by 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in December 2015 included the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels."

Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries prepared the IPCC report in response to an invitation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when it adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015.

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