IPCC special report leaves the world in dire straits

In response to an invitation from the Parties of the Paris Agreement (PA), and pursuant to the Article 2 efforts to limit temperature increases well below 2°C, the IPCC prepared a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), released Monday, 8 October, 2018.

Climate scientists sounded the alarm yet again, painting a dire picture of the future without immediate and drastic mitigation and adaptation measures worldwide.  High confidence statements made by the panel include:

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  • Human activities have caused approximately 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels
  • Current global warming trends reach at least 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052
  • Staying below the 1.5°C threshold will require a 45% reduction in GHG emissions from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net-zero by 2050
  • Pathways to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot will require removal of an additional 100-1000 GtCO2

Pathways of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions submitted under the PA will not limit global warming to 1.5°C.  Current pathways put us on target for 3°C by 2100, with continued warming afterwards.

The ENB Report summarizing SR15 was able to shine a light on the good that can come from responses to this special report (not to mention upholding the ambition intended with the PA).  SR15 shows that most of the 1.5°C pathways to avoid overshoot also help to achieve Sustainable Development Goals in critical areas like human health or energy access. Ambitious emission reductions can also prevent meeting critical ecosystem thresholds, such as the projected loss of 70-90% of warmer water coral reefs associated with 2°C.

Groups like the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are intensifying their adaptive scientific support through a “fully-integrated, ‘seamless’ Earth-system approach to weather, climate, and water domains,” says Professor Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist of the WMO.  This “seamless” approach allows leading climate scientists to use their advanced data assimilation and observation capabilities to deliver knowledge in support of human adaptations to regional environmental changes.  By addressing extreme climate and weather events through a holistic Earth-system approach, predictive tools will help enhance early warning systems and promote well being by giving the global community a greater chance to adapt to the inevitable hazardous events related to climate change.

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Success ultimately depends on international cooperation, which will hopefully be encouraged by the IPCC’s grim report and the looming PA Global Stocktake (GST) in 2023.  In the wake of devastating hurricanes, typhoons, and the SR15, it’s hard to ignore both the climate and leading climate scientists urging us to take deliberate, collective action to help create a more equitable and livable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.

In Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20 decides to convene a “facilitative dialogue” among the Parties in 2018, to take stock in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4 of the PA.  Later renamed the Talanoa Dialogue, these talks have set preparations into motion and are helping Parties gear up for the formal GST, with the aim of answering three key questions: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How will we get there?

Discussion about the implications of SR15 will be held at COP24, where round table discussions in the political phase of the dialogue will address the question, “how do we get there?”

It won’t be by continuing business as usual.


Outside the ADP negotiation rooms

IMG_0920Some days at UNFCCC negotiations, the glass looks more full outside the negotiating rooms.

Given the 4am revisions of the negotiation texts, meetings today started off slowly.  The ADP gathered in the late morning to acknowledge the new text, send the G77 and other negotiating groups off for coordination on it, and announce the afternoon and evening “spin off groups.” These smaller, more focused meetings are drafting sessions.  Under the UNFCCC rules of procedure, the Parties may choose to exclude observers.  On Day 2 of this penultimate ADP session, that’s precisely what happened.  So Parties met behind closed doors to work on four parts of the draft agreement (mitigation, finance, capacity building, and technology transfer) and the draft decision on Workstream 2 from 3pm till 9pm.

Good thing.  This gave civil society organizations (CSO) even more time to shine light on the UNFCCC Parties’ slow progress in achieving the Article 2 goal of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” One CSO project merits special attention.

Fair Share:  A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs was launched at the ADP negotiations on Day 2.  The review’s authors are “social movements, environmental and development NGOs, trade unions, faith and other civil society groups,” who “have come together to assess the climate commitments that have been put on the table through the UN climate negotiations.” (A full list of them may be read here.) Thefair shares bar graph methodology is straight forward and simple (two adjectives rarely applied to the UNFCCC):  compare a country’s historical GHG emissions to its INDC pledge filed during the last eight months.  Fair Shares does this number crunching bearing in mind the IPCC’s calculation that we have a limited global carbon budget remaining before catastrophic warming sets in. Reviewing the voluntary, nationally determined INDC pledges in this light, the review “seeks to ascertain whether the Paris Agreement will be ambitious enough and tolerably fair.”

In the end, the review recommends that the Paris Agreement should include:

  • Targets to reduce emissions in 2025, 2030, 2040 and 2050, working toward “near-zero emissions” by mid-century;
  • A “step-change” in international climate finance;
  • A “clear and fair plan to address the emissions gap through new cooperative action fuelled by scaled-up support from the developed countries that are most responsible.”