Will we stay below 1.5°C or is it already too late? – Wrong question!

Deutsche Version

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its special report on 1.5°C. Here is NewClimate’s take on the report.

IPCC_1

The IPCC special report sends a clear message to policy makers: act now, it’s almost too late! Many policy makers may not have understood what they agreed to when, in 2015 in Paris, they agreed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Now one of the most elaborate scientific verification processes, the IPCC, has made it clear: A 1.5°C limit is necessary to protect important ecosystems (Summary for policy makers, SPM, section B4), it is technically and economically feasible and, properly implemented, it can contribute to (and enable) sustainable development – but only if all join forces.

Fulfilling the 1.5°C target is extremely difficult, but not impossible. We have to phase out CO2emissions completely. The report makes it amazingly clear that 2050 must be the global phase out year (SPM C.1). To do this, almost all areas of life have to be turned upside down: how we live, eat, move around, and what we consume. Technical solutions alone will not be enough, we have to change our behaviour (SPM D5, D6). And we have to help developing countries make this rapid transformation.

Will we stay below 1.5°C or is it already too late? – Wrong question! Limiting climate change to 1.5°C is a global, long-term goal. Hence, the question should be: Do we want to limit warming to1.5°C? And here the answer is probably a clear “yes” by all who read the IPCC report: it’s about protecting our habitat and ecosystems and minimizing disasters. So, we have to try. The report confirms that there have already been transformations of this speed, but these have been geographically limited, not yet global (SPM C2). A few examples: In just five years, Norway has made electric cars the new standard, 50% of new registrations are electric. Renewable energy technology is currently so competitive that some governments are actively slowing down its development. Renewables are pushing coal out of markets in countries such as India and China, which no one would have thought possible five years ago. There are even highlights in technically more challenging areas such as industry: in Sweden, the first primary steel has been produced without fossil fuels – something that was inconceivable five years ago. One thing is for sure: if we give up the goal and do not even try, we will certainly miss it by a long shot.

It seems surprising at first that the emission budget is slightly higher than was assumed in the last IPCC report (SPM C1.3). What had led to confusion after a single publication has now been clearly characterised by the IPCC. The correction illustrates the uncertainties in our knowledge of the climate system. But the basic principle is not questioned: greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to net zero by perhaps a few years later than previously thought. The challenge remains enormous. We may have marginally more time than we thought, however, the best response would be to abide by the precautionary principle and better to peak, reduce and hit net zero a little earlier than later.

The adoption of the 1.5°C limit has already made a difference – much more information makes its implementation more likely. The IPCC report is a good example of the dialogue between politics and science. Policy makers requested the report. Science presents the options for action in the report without evaluating their feasibility (as was tried in previous versions). Policy makers now have to decide whether they can implement the options or not.

The report increases the pressure to act enormously. Actually, the report contains nothing really new – neither for the experts, nor for the main decision-makers: it only sums up what has already been published. However, new pressure comes from the fact that what has to be done is now written in black and white. Every state in the world has to agree to the summary, which gives the report enormous political legitimacy. You cannot get out of it now. In the past, IPCC reports have always been used as a guideline for political action, in particular by civil society pressing for government action, and by the public. This report will be no different.

Contact for further information: Niklas Höhne