Drastic. Dire. Painful. Worse than expected. That’s how the media greeted last week’s release of the IPCC’s analysis of the impact of a 1.5C vs. 2C degree increase in global atmospheric temperature.
As our blog has analyzed already, the IPCC’s report offers pathways for avoiding some of the climate change consequences likely at a 2C degree rise while at the same time achieving sustainable development outcomes that help achieve climate justice.
But this op-ed in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists challenges the IPCC and argues that the new report didn’t go far enough.
Nobel prize in chemistry winner Mario Molina, 2013 UN Champion of Earth Veerabhadran Ramanathan, and IGSD founder Durwood Zaelke point out several omissions and conclude that “to put it bluntly, there is a significant risk of self-reinforcing climate feedback loops pushing the planet into chaos beyond human control.”
These oversights include:
- Not accounting for self-reinforcing feedbacks and tipping points, which the authors call “the wildcards of the climate system” and
- Not discussing the 5% risk that existing levels of climate pollution, in and of themselves, could result in locked in and runaway warming (the “fat tail” risk)
In the end, the op-ed worries that the IPCC’s 1.5C report “may mislead world leaders into thinking they have more time to address the climate crisis” while also pointing out the Churchill-ian challenge before them.
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) says that “due to their short lifetimes, compared to CO2 which remains in the atmosphere for approximately a century, actions to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants will quickly lower their atmospheric concentrations, yielding a relatively rapid climate response. Fast action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, especially methane and black carbon, has the potential to slow down the warming expected by 2050 by as much as 0.5 Celsius degrees.” While the UNFCCC negotiations have focused on C02, CCAC doesn’t want us to lose sight of these short-lived contributors to atmospheric warming.
Not only does their mitigation have an impact on climate change, but it also bodes well for human health and food security. It is estimated that adoption of advanced cookstoves and clean fuels alone has the potential to prevent over 2 million of premature deaths each year. Tropospheric (the closest part of the atmosphere to earth) ozone exposure – what we usually call ground-level ozone or O3 – and black carbon’s effect on cloud formation are estimated to decrease wheat, soybean, rice, and maize crop yields significantly. By collecting landfill gas and recovering methane from coal mines, CCAC sees the potential to avoid the annual loss of more than 50 million tons of crops. Read here for more short-lived climate pollutant facts and graphics illustrating them.