IPPC report on climate change: time is running out

October 29, 2018

It took years of research and analysis, and the contribution of 91 prestigious authors from 40 different countries: the report on  global warming of 1.5 °C (SR15) was recently published by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations agency charged with evaluating data on climate change. The report followed an explicit request by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which, shortly after the 2015 Paris Climate Agreements adopted by 195 countries across the world, asked the IPCC experts to prepare a special report on climate change, to be published in 2018. During the IPCC's  48th Session, held in South Korea in October 2018, the report was presented to the world with its full title: “Global warming of 1.5 °C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty”. The report has one very clear message: combating climate change can no longer wait. 

Solid (and worrying) premises
The report's starting point is one of the pillars of the Paris Agreement, that is the pledge to 'contain global average temperature increases well below 2 °C  of pre-industrial levels, and devise strategies and commitments to limit this increase to 1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial level'. All countries who signed the agreement, whose national strategies were outlined in documents known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), have been committed to achieving this goal since 2015. According to climate change experts, the sum total of the national contributions indicated by each individual country will not achieve the target, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to keep temperatures below the set threshold. One thing is clear: humans and their activities are the key culprits of climate change and global warming in particular, considering that in 2017 average world temperatures were already 1 °C  above those of the pre-industrial period (the time between 1850-1900 according to the IPCC report). If the current trends continue, global warming is estimated to reach 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052. It is not just down to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: the damage to the planet caused by the increase in temperature also depends on the speed of warming and the areas where it takes place, on resilience and the possibilities to limit change. 

Half a degree makes all the difference
To a non-expert, the difference between a 1.5 °C or a 2 °C  increase may appear insignificant, but experts have demonstrated with data that it is not so. Half a degree could make or break the future of the planet. Generally speaking, a 1.5 °C increase would require less effort to adapt compared to a 2 °C increase. Many consequences of climate change and global warming are already under our eyes, but the data quoted in the IPCC report shows even to the most oblivious among us that the deterioration caused by increased temperatures touches every aspect of the life of the planet and its inhabitants. In fact, global warming means a reduction in arable land, raising sea levels and the resulting flooding of many areas that are inhabited today, desertification and hence drought, famine and mass migration, the extinction of many living species and much more, in a list that appears never ending. How important is this half degree? Here are a few examples: the number of people frequently exposed to extreme heat waves would reduce by nearly 420 million, and by 65 million for exceptional heat waves. With a temperature increase of 1.5 °C, ice-less summers in the Arctic would happen every 100 years rather than every 10 years, as it is expected with a 2 °C increase. In land-based environments, an increase by 2 °C would cause a transformation of 13% of the eco-system, while an increase within 1.5 °C would generate only half of that percentage. 

How to act, starting today
“It is possible to limit global warming to 1.5 °C by following the laws of physics and chemistry, but this challenge requires the adoption of unprecedented changes” stated Jim Skea, an IPCC manager and author of the report. “We need to take the right decisions today to guarantee a safe and sustainable world now and in the future” echoes Debra Roberts, another author of the  IPCC report, who points at several possible  sustainable development paths that could be immediately taken. According to the experts, limiting temperature raises to 1.5 °C entails cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 (compared to 2010 levels), and achieving 'zero emissions' by 2050. To achieve this objective, dropping coal and fossil fuels in favor of renewable and sustainable energy sources will play a key role. Undoubtedly, strategies to 'capture' the emitted carbon dioxide, such as re-forestation, can help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, even though their global and long term impact still needs researching thoroughly. More education and technical/ structural action that reduce energy consumption and waste at the end customer level, without compromising welfare and development, could also be beneficial for sustainable development. 

The sustainable development objectives to combat climate change and the data from the IPCC report will feature among the topics discussed at the International Forum on Food and Nutrition of the BCFN Foundation, scheduled for  27 and 28 November 2018 in Milan.