Written by: Nathaniel Tok, Peak Associate
The United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a special report titled Global Warming of 1.5°C, detailing what effects an average global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels will have on the world.
According to an IPCC press release, the report referenced over 6,000 scientific reports and had 91 authors and 133 contributing authors from over 40 countries. Kirsten Zickfeld, climate scientist and SFU associate geography professor, was one of the lead authors of the report.
The IPCC report was commissioned during the climate change convention held in Paris in 2015 to examine the science behind what possible outcomes might result if the average global temperature was limited to a 1.5°C increase.
“Prior to the report, there was a lot of talk and science around the 2°C limit but not a lot about the 1.5°C limit,” said Zickfeld in an email interview with The Peak. Nations signed onto a 2°C limit on warming in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit.
The report states that keeping the temperature increase at the 1.5°C limit is still possible. However, it also highlights the effects of the current 1°C increase in the world. Zickfeld noted that such effects include rising sea levels, increased coastal flooding, mass coral death in the Great Barrier Reef, and higher-frequency, higher-intensity cases of heavy rainfall and heatwaves, such as the recent heatwaves in Europe.
The report emphasizes how maintaining the average global temperature increase within 1.5°C instead of 2°C will allow humanity and ecosystems to evade the worst effects of climate change, which are projected to include severe heatwaves, risks of food shortages from crop yield deficits, and total loss of coral systems. The 0.5°C difference is believed to have a vast impact on human and ecological health.
“For some ecosystems and people. It’s a life or death situation,” wrote Zickfeld.
As detailed by the IPCC report, swift action is necessary to limit temperature increases to 1.5°C, and the next few years are crucial. The urgency of the report was noted by Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, who said in an interview with The Canadian Press that, based on Canada’s current trajectory, the country will not meet the 1.5°C goal unless changes are implemented.
“We all know we need to do more,” she said. “Every country in the world needs to take action, and then we need to be more ambitious about the action we are willing to take.”
“What countries committed to under the Paris agreement is insufficient to limit warming to 1.5 degrees,” commented Zickfeld, noting that, despite the pledges provided by the countries, the world is projected to experience three-degree warming by 2100.
The IPCC report has also provided outlines of how to achieve the 1.5°C limit. It states that by 2030, emissions will need to be cut by at least 45%. Wide-ranging changes would also need to be made to the economy and energy sector; countries would need to switch from fossil fuels towards renewable energy, work on reforestation, and possibly look at ways to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Above all, the report is to remind governments of how essential it is that we tackle the problem of climate change is for human and ecological health. “The report laid out a roadmap giving measures for how to stay under the 1.5°C limit. It’s now up to politicians to take on this information and act,” Zickfeld noted.