In a recently released report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to the previous “tipping point” guidance of 2°C. According to the report, the goal will require “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure, and industrial systems” but would help lessen or slow a number of serious climate change impacts including global sea level rise and coral reef decline.

“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.

The report was prepared by 91 authors and review editors from 40 countries, in response to an invitation from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change when it adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015. It was approved by the IPCC on October 6 in Incheon, Republic of Korea.

“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,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

Previously, climate scientists warned that 2ºC was the “tipping point” in which people would feel climate change’s most severe effects. Given recent research, IPCC scientists have updated that number to 1.5ºC due to the continued emissions of greenhouse gasses in recent years.

“By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C,” a press release from the IPCC states. “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 with 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.”

Cover page of the IPCC Special Report on the global warming of 1.5°C
Cover page of the IPCC Special Report on the global warming of 1.5°C (Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

In the report’s Summary for Policy Makers, one of five major areas of concern that accompanies rising temperatures are extreme weather events. The summary gave the examples of “risks/impacts to human health, livelihoods, assets, and ecosystems from extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy rain, drought and associated wildfires, and coastal flooding.”

So what will it take to avoid this damage?

Jim Skea, the co-chair of IPCC Working Group III explained that physically and chemically, the world can stay below 1.5ºC only if extreme measures are taken. These measures begin with all countries being on the same page— “International cooperation is absolutely imperative…The next few years will be critical in the evolution of these efforts.”” said University of New South Wales climate research fellow Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick.

At the 2015 UN Climate Conference, also known as the Paris Accords, participating countries committed to take drastic measures to combat climate change and keep global temperatures well below 2ºC. Since then, the U.S. under President Trump has pulled out of the agreement and his administration has emphasized the desire to continue burning coal.

The IPCC report offers the solution of carbon tax to help reduce emissions. The report estimated that if the U.S did not take drastic measures to reduce its CO2 emissions, its GDP could drop 1.2% per 1.8 degree of warming.

In a statement on October 8, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged all countries to stick to the commitments made in Paris at the 2015 UN Climate Conference.

He asked that countries “raise ambition, rapidly strengthen their national climate action plans, and urgently accelerate implementation of the Paris Agreement.” He also deemed the upcoming December 2018 Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland a “cant-fail” moment.

“The coming period is critical…We must rise to the challenge of climate action and do what science demands before it is too late.”

Sources & Additional Reading

Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn 

What is the Paris Agreement? 

Statement by the Secretary-General on the IPCC Special Report Global Warming of 1.5 ºC 

Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040 

Summary for Policymakers