World Scientists Issue Stark Warning: A Final Call to Save the World From 'Climate Catastrophe'
October 10, 2018 Matt McGrath / BBC News & Phil Mckenna / Inside Climate News
A landmark report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns the world is running out of time to make the changes needed to stop a global climate catastrophe. To head off a mass-extinction, we need to take dramatic and costly action over the next decade. Instead, the Trump administration is promoting the dying coal and oil industries by rolling back regulations on the toxic emissions that threaten our existence.
Keeping to the preferred target of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will mean "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society".
It will be hugely expensive -- but the window of opportunity remains open.
After three years of research and a week of haggling between scientists and government officials at a meeting in South Korea, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a special report on the impact of global warming of 1.5C.
The critical 33-page Summary for Policymakers certainly bears the hallmarks of difficult negotiations between climate researchers determined to stick to what their studies have shown and political representatives more concerned with economies and living standards.
Despite the inevitable compromises, there are some key messages that come through loud and clear.
"The first is that limiting warming to 1.5C brings a lot of benefits compared with limiting it to two degrees. It really reduces the impacts of climate change in very important ways," said Prof Jim Skea, who co-chairs the IPCC.
"The second is the unprecedented nature of the changes that are required if we are to limit warming to 1.5C -- changes to energy systems, changes to the way we manage land, changes to the way we move around with transportation."
What's the One Big Takeaway?
"Scientists might want to write in capital letters, 'ACT NOW, IDIOTS,' but they need to say that with facts and numbers," said Kaisa Kosonen, of Greenpeace, who was an observer at the negotiations. "And they have."
The researchers have used these facts and numbers to paint a picture of the world with a dangerous fever, caused by humans. We used to think if we could keep warming below two degrees this century, then the changes we would experience would be manageable.
Not any more. This new study says that going past 1.5C is dicing with the planet's liveability. And the 1.5C temperature "guard rail" could be exceeded in just 12 years, in 2030.
We can stay below it -- but it will require urgent, large-scale changes from governments and individuals and we will have to invest a massive pile of cash every year, about 2.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced, for two decades.
Even then, we will still need machines, trees and plants to capture carbon from the air that we can then store deep underground -- forever.
What Can I Do?
The report says there must be rapid and significant changes in four big global systems: * energy * land use * cities * industry
But it adds that the world cannot meet its target without changes by individuals, urging people to: * buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter and more locally sourced seasonal food -- and throw less of it away * drive electric cars but walk or cycle short distances * take trains and buses instead of planes * use videoconferencing instead of business travel * use a washing line instead of a tumble dryer *insulate homes * demand low carbon in every consumer product
Lifestyle changes can make a big difference, said Dr Debra Roberts, the IPCC's other co-chair.
"That's a very empowering message for the individual," she said. "This is not about remote science; it is about where we live and work, and it gives us a cue on how we might be able to contribute to that massive change, because everyone is going to have to be involved."
"You might say you don't have control over land use, but you do have control over what you eat and that determines land use.
"We can choose the way we move in cities and if we don't have access to public transport -- make sure you are electing politicians who provide options around public transport."
Five Steps to 1.5
1. Global emissions of CO2 need to decline by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030
2. Renewables are estimated to provide up to 85% of global electricity by 2050
3. Coal is expected to reduce to close to zero
4. Up to seven million sq km of land will be needed for energy crops (a bit less than the size of Australia)
5. Global net zero emissions by 2050
How Much Will All This Cost?
It won't come cheap. The report says to limit warming to 1.5C, will involve "annual average investment needs in the energy system of around $2.4 trillion" between 2016 and 2035.
Experts believe this number needs to be put in context.
"There are costs and benefits you have to weigh up," said Dr Stephen Cornelius, a former UK IPCC negotiator now with WWF. He says making big emissions cuts in the short term will cost money but be cheaper than paying for carbon dioxide removal later this century.
"The report also talks about the benefits as there is higher economic growth at 1.5 degrees than there is at 2C and you don't have the higher risk of catastrophic impacts at 1.5 that you do at two."
What Happens If We Don't Act?
The researchers say that if we fail to keep temperature rises below 1.5C, we are in for some significant and dangerous changes to our world.
You can kiss coral reefs goodbye, as the report says they would be essentially 100% wiped out at two degrees of warming.
Global sea-level will rise about 10cm (4in) more if we let warming go to 2C. That may not sound like much but keeping to 1.5C means that 10 million fewer people would be exposed to the risks of flooding.
There are also significant impacts on ocean temperatures and acidity, and the ability to grow crops such as rice, maize and wheat.
"We are already in the danger zone at one degree of warming," said Kaisa Kosonen, from Greenpeace. "Both poles are melting at an accelerated rate; ancient trees that have been there for hundreds of years are suddenly dying; and the summer we've just experienced -- basically, the whole world was on fire."
Is this Plan at All Feasible?
The countdown to the worst of global warming seems to have accelerated. Seriously damaging impacts are no longer on a distant horizon later this century but within a timeframe that appears uncomfortably close.
By the same token, the report's "pathways" for keeping a lid on temperatures all mean that hard decisions cannot be delayed: * a shift away from fossil fuels by mid-century * coal phased out far sooner than previously suggested * vast tracts of land given over to forests
It's mind-bending stuff and some will say it's hopelessly unrealistic, a climate scientists' fantasy. So is any of it plausible? On the one hand, the global economy relies on carbon and key activities depend on it. On the other, wind turbines and solar panels have tumbled in price and more and more countries and states such as California are setting ambitious green targets.
Ultimately, politicians will face a difficult choice: persuade their voters that the revolutionary change outlined in the report is urgently needed or ignore it and say the scientists have got it wrong.
Is All This about Saving Small Island States?
The idea of keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5 is something very close to the hearts and minds of small island and low-lying states, which fear being inundated with flooding if temperatures go to two degrees.
But over the three years that the report was in preparation, more and more scientific evidence has been published showing the benefits of staying close to 1.5C are not just for island nations in the Pacific.
"If you save a small island country, then you save the world," said Dr Amjad Abdulla, an IPCC author, from the Maldives. "Because the report clearly states that no-one is going to be immune. It's about morality -- it's about humanity."
How Long Have We Got?
Not long at all. But that issue is now in the hands of political leaders. The report says hard decisions can no longer be kicked down the road. If the nations of the world don't act soon, they will have to rely even more on unproven technologies to take carbon out of the air -- an expensive and uncertain road.
"They really need to start work immediately. The report is clear that if governments just fulfil the pledges they made in the Paris agreement for 2030, it is not good enough. It will make it very difficult to consider global warming of 1.5C," said Prof Jim Skea.
"If they read the report and decide to increase their ambitions and act more immediately, then 1.5C stays within reach -- that's the nature of the choice they face."
Campaigners and environmentalists, who have welcomed the report, say there is simply no time left for debate.
"This is the moment where we need to decide" said Kaisa Kosonen. "We want to move to clean energy, sustainable lifestyles. We want to protect our forests and species. This is the moment that we will remember; this is the year when the turning point happened."
(October 7, 2018) -- Countries won't be able to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, considered by some scientists and policymakers to be the "safe" limit of climate change, without immediate and rapid reductions in a wide range of greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide, according to a new United Nations report.
The report, released Oct. 8 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sums up the research into how 1.5°C of warming will affect the world and how global warming can most effectively be stopped.
The planet has already warmed about 1°C since the start of the industrial era, and that's likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if emissions continue at their current rate, the IPCC says. It describes how recent warming has been accompanied by a trend toward more intense and frequent climate, temperature and weather extremes, and how those risks will rise with the temperature.
The warming can be stopped, the IPCC writes in its summary for policymakers. Doing so will require countries to reduce global net emissions of carbon dioxide to zero by around 2050 and to also significantly reduce short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.
That emphasis on reducing short-lived climate pollutants, which are many times more potent than CO2 but don't last as long in the atmosphere, is stronger than what has been written into past international agreements.
That's partly because, with the clock running out before the world busts through its carbon budget, curtailing short-lived pollutants can buy valuable time.
In analyzing the least disruptive pathways for keeping global warming under 1.5°C, the IPCC found that all involve deep reductions in both methane and black carbon emissions of at least 35 percent by 2050.
Where to Cut Short-Lived Climate Pollutants?
The report's summary for policymakers points to three industries in particular for reducing short-lived climate pollutants: energy, agriculture and waste.
"One of the lowest-hanging fruits by far would be reducing methane from oil and gas operations," said Tiy Chung, a spokesman for the Climate & Clean Air Coalition, an advocacy group focused on reducing short-lived climate pollutant emissions. "The process to finding and fixing those leaks is relatively easy, and then the saved gas helps pay for that work."
A study earlier this year in the journal Science estimated that in the U.S., methane equivalent to 2.3 percent of all the natural gas produced in the nation leaks into the atmosphere during the production, processing and transportation of oil and gas every year. The Obama administration set rules aimed at reducing these emissions, but the Trump administration has been rolling back the regulations.
Agriculture is another leading source of methane, particularly from livestock and their manure and from rice fields. Landfills, like oil and gas fields, contribute methane as organic material decomposes.
Groups that are encouraging reducing short-lived climate pollutants emphasize that doing so reduces health hazards at the same time. For example, black carbon, also known as soot, can damage the lungs and cause heart problems, particularly for people who live or work around sources of it, such as diesel engines or wood- or coal-burning cookstoves.
"If you reduce things like black carbon emissions from the tailpipes of vehicles, for example, you are providing these important air quality improvement benefits which is going to help local populations as well," said Katherine Ross, an associate with the World Resources Institute's Climate Program.
The damage from short-lived climate pollutants is already showing up in the Arctic, where the new IPCC report says temperatures have warmed two to three times more than the global average and where warming can trigger feedback loops, including thawing permafrost that releases even more methane into the atmosphere.
Capturing a Missed Opportunity
The recognition of the need to reduce emissions of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants addresses what some advocates for action on climate change see as a key shortcoming of initial pledges made under the Paris Agreement.
Of the 195 nations that signed the Paris Agreement, eight included specific targets and policies for reducing short-lived climate pollutants in their national commitments, though many others describe measures targeting sources of methane, black carbon or HFCs.
"There was this real missed opportunity," Ross said. "There was this general lack of detail and specificity with regard to how countries planned to take action to reduce these highly potent pollutants."
To limit warming to 1.5°C, countries will have to act quickly.
"It's really hard to get to 1.5 under any conceivable set of policies," Drew Shindell, a professor of climate science at Duke University and a coordinating lead author on the IPCC report said. "So, you really need to do pretty much everything you can think of, which means SLCPs (short-lived climate pollutants) are a key part."
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, for noncommercial, educational purposes.