A world map with climate anomalies during the World Climate Change Conference 2015. Photo: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
A world map with climate anomalies during the World Climate Change Conference 2015. Photo: Agencies

The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a report released Monday that urgent, global action is required to stave off the devastating implications of climate change.

The IPCC’s “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees” was released in Incheon, South Korea, on Monday via a livestream Internet broadcast.

Its findings are alarming.

Produced by 91 authors at the request of the group of governments which signed on to the 2015 Paris Agreement, it outlines the impact of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsuis above pre-industrial levels, and puts forward suggestions to contain global warming below that.

The report found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at their current rate, the earth’s atmosphere will warm up by as much as 1.5ºC  above pre-industrial levels by 2040. This will result in inundated coastlines and worsened droughts, with massive collateral effects on global poverty.

What is of particular concern is that the report lowers the level after which disastrous climate change is anticipated: Previous research had set the critical threshold at 2ºC of warming.

Monday’s report was produced by three IPCC working groups. Working Group I assessed the physical science basis of climate change; Working Group II addressed impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and Working Group III dealt with the mitigation of climate change.

“The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, in a press release. “This report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people’s needs. The next few years are probably the most important in our history.”

A number of climate change impacts could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more, the report found. By 2100, global sea level rises would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C, and coral reefs would decline by 70-90% with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (99%) would be lost with 2ºC.

Yet, to limit global warming to below 1.5°C, drastic action is needed in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and city policy, the IPCC said.

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” by around 2050.

Moreover, by 2050, coal would have to be almost entirely eliminated as a power source: cut from almost 40% today to between 1-7% of current usage. And the use of renewables – such as wind and solar which currently make up around 20% of the international electricity mix – must be expanded to up to 67% of the total.

While such actions are scientifically feasible, even IPCC experts conceded that the political will needed to force through such changes would be colossal.

“Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III. “But doing so would require unprecedented changes.”

The IPCC insisted on the gravity and veracity of their findings. “With more than 6,000 scientific references cited and the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide, this important report testifies to the breadth and policy relevance of the IPCC,” said IPCC chair Lee Hoe-sung 

The IPCC was established in 1998 by the UN Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. It encompasses 195 member states and is tasked with assessing science related to climate change and providing guidelines for policy makers.

The IPCC’s next major report will appear in 2022.

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