Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees C from the IPCC : We Have 10 years !

Jay Owen Sustainability News, Nature/Biomimicry

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The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say

“There is no documented historic precedent” for the scale of changes required, the body found.

The Eiffel Tower is lit up with the slogan “Action Now” in December 2015, as countries signed the landmark Paris climate accord. (Michel Euler/AP)

October 7 at 9:00 PM

“There is no documented historic precedent” for the sweeping change to energy, transportation and other systems required to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)wrote in a report requested as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

At the same time, however, the report is being received with hope in some quarters because it affirms that 1.5 degrees Celsius is still possible — if emissions stopped today, for instance, the planet would not reach that temperature. It is also likely to galvanize even stronger climate action by focusing on 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than 2 degrees, as a target that the world cannot afford to miss.

“Frankly, we’ve delivered a message to the governments,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of the IPCC panel and professor at Imperial College London, at a press event following the document’s release. “It’s now their responsibility … to decide whether they can act on it.” He added, “What we’ve done is said what the world needs to do.”

The transformation described in the document is breathtaking, and the speed of change required raises inevitable questions about its feasibility.

Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures.

Overall reductions in emissions in the next decade would probably need to be more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest emitting countries. By 2050, the report calls for a total or near-total phaseout of the burning of coal.Understanding the Arctic is really a key to understanding the whole global system

“Such large transitions pose profound challenges for sustainable management of the various demands on land for human settlements, food, livestock feed, fibre, bioenergy, carbon storage, biodiversity and other ecosystem services,” the report states.

The document in question was produced relatively rapidly for the cautious and deliberative IPCC, representing the work of nearly 100 scientists. It went through an elaborate peer-review process involving tens of thousands of comments. The final 34-page “summary for policymakers” was agreed to in a marathon session by scientists and government officials in Incheon, South Korea, over the past week.

The report says the world will need to develop large-scale “negative emissions” programs to remove significant volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Although the basic technologies exist, they have not caught on widely, and scientists have strongly questioned whether such a program can be scaled up in the brief period available.

In Sunday’s report, the body detailed the magnitude and unprecedented nature of the changes that would be required to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but it held back from taking a specific stand on the feasibility of meeting such an ambitious goal. (An early draft had cited a “very high risk” of warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius; that language is now gone, even if the basic message is still easily inferred.)

“If you’re expecting IPCC to jump up and down and wave red flags, you’re going to be disappointed,” said Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center. “They’re going to do what they always do, which is to release very cautious reports in extremely dispassionate language.”

Underscoring the difficulty of interpreting what’s possible, the IPCC gave two separate numbers in the report for Earth’s remaining “carbon budget,” or how much carbon dioxide humans can emit and still have a reasonable chance of remaining below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The upshot is that humans are allowed either 10 or 14 years of current emissions, and no more, for a two-thirds or better chance of avoiding 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The already limited budget would shrink further if other greenhouse gases, such as methane, aren’t controlled or if and when Arctic permafrost becomes a major source of new emissions.

The new approach buys some time and “resets the clock for 1.5 degrees Celsius to ‘five minutes to midnight,’ ” said Oliver Geden, head of the research division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

The report is sure to be the central focus of attention this December in Poland when the next meeting of the parties to the Paris climate agreement is held, and countries begin to contemplate how they can up their ambition levels, as the agreement requires them to do over time.

Specifically, the document finds that instabilities in Antarctica and Greenland, which could usher in sea-level rise measured in feet rather than inches, “could be triggered around 1.5°C to 2°C of global warming.” Moreover, the total loss of tropical coral reefs is at stake because 70 to 90 percent are expected to vanish at 1.5 degrees Celsius, the report finds. At 2 degrees, that number grows to more than 99 percent.

The report found that holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could save an Alaska-size area of the Arctic from permafrost thaw, muting a feedback loop that could lead to still more global emissions. The occurrence of entirely ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean goes from one per century to one per decade between 1.5 and 2 degrees, it found — one of many ways in which the mere half a degree has large real-world consequences.

Risks of extreme heat and weather events just rise and rise as temperatures do, meaning these would be worse worldwide the more it warms.

To avoid that, in barely more than 10 years, the world’s percentage of electricity from renewables such as solar and wind power would have to jump from the current 24 percent to something more like 50 or 60 percent.

Cars and other forms of transportation, meanwhile, would need to be shifting strongly toward being electrified, powered by these same renewable energy sources. At present, transportation is far behind the power sector in the shift to low-carbon fuel sources. Right now, according to the International Energy Agency, only 4 percent of road transportation is powered by renewable fuels, and the agency has projected only a 1 percent increase by 2022.