By Susanna Jackson, Ambassador
Picture credit: IISD Reporting Service. WG co-chairs celebrating the adoption of the Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.
Climate change is the biggest global issue of our time, affecting every nation worldwide with devastating impacts and we, as a species, have never had to face a problem quite like it before. If no action is taken, global warming is expected to exceed 3°C this century. International cooperation is essential in tackling such a widespread, significant issue, particularly as the most vulnerable countries are ill-equipped to tackle the effects.
The 13th Sustainable Development Goal aims to strengthen global solidarity through national climate change policies, improved education and awareness regarding adaptation and mitigation, and promoting climate change management by involving women and marginalized communities in developing countries. It also seeks to enforce the $100 billion annual commitment of developed countries to the Green Climate Fund by 2020 aimed at helping developing countries achieve effective mitigation actions.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a United Nations organisation involving the collaboration of the world’s leading climate scientists to produce regular reports on the state of global climate change, the current and estimated physical and sociological effects thereof, and potential adaptation and mitigation options.
It provides policymakers with unquestionable knowledge by gathering extensive academic and scientific research and consolidating it into a single report, even creating a specific separate document labelled ‘Summary for Policymakers’. It has been a significant body in influencing world leader’s responses to climate change, providing essential, accessible and understandable information for policymakers. Following the last IPCC report in 2013, the Paris Agreement was created with the aim to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C, ratified by 175 countries as of April 2018.
However, this was not enough.
On October 7th 2018, the IPCC released a special report (SR15) detailing how devastatingly affected the world would be with a warming of 2°C compared to 1.5°C — the world that we are heading towards, with temperatures expected to increase above 1.5°C by 2040. In a 2°C warmer world, the consequences would be widespread and tragic:
Coral reefs would practically cease to exist; sweltering heatwaves would occur annually around the world, igniting wildfires and leaving droughts in their wake; food security would become a global problem; sea levels will continue to rise as ice sheets potentially collapse past their tipping points, threatening some of the world’s economically and culturally important cities with inundation this century; global GDP per capita will decrease by 13%; diseases will spread; habitats will be destroyed; species wiped out; millions of lives at risk — the list goes on.
But not all hope is lost.
Despite these crushing home-truths and the temptation to admit defeat in a seemingly hopeless scenario, the IPCC authors take an optimistic approach, outlining the many possibilities the world can take in order to limit warming to 1.5°C and move ever closer to achieving SDG13.
Currently, global carbon dioxide emissions are 50% higher than they were in 1990; the last time carbon dioxide levels were this high was during the Pliocene (3–5 million years ago!). Through reducing these emissions, there is a chance that warming can stabilise at 1.5°C. Carbon dioxide concentrations will need to reduce by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The IPCC helpfully presents four potential pathways to achieve this, each using a combination of methods. Clean and practical solutions already exist involving:
· Lowering the energy demand
· Using low-carbon technology
· Decarbonisation of the energy supply
· Increasing energy efficiency
· Implementing high carbon taxes
· New and developing technologies such as carbon capture and storage could also have a significant role in reducing atmospheric concentrations.
As individuals, the report highlights how we can make an impact,taking action by choosing less resource intensive diets (i.e. vegetarianism and veganism) and more energy efficient ways of living (e.g. cycling and public transport). Ultimately, the report is the first of its kind to stress just how urgent the situation is.
You would think all of this would be huge news, right?
As a Geography student, I have naturally always been aware of the IPCC reports, but it was not until starting my Masters that my attention was really captured by it. Not only is it a central focus of many of my studies, but two of my lecturers were lead authors on the recent IPCC report, with one absent for a week while negotiating the terms for its release in South Korea! I was in awe of this, very excited by the fact I was being taught first-hand by prestigious scientists involved in such an iconic document for climate action.
Feeling privileged and enlightened, I could not wait to share with friends and family — only to find out they knew nothing about it, and many had not even heard of the IPCC. I found this shocking and disheartening, and in the days to come realised just how under-publicised the findings were.
Since this is potentially the biggest challenge the world will have to face in generations to come, why was it not all over the news? Why were governments not diving into action to accommodate the necessary policies? Why wasn’t everyone talking about it?
There is a severe lack of awareness amongst the general public about how serious climate change is and what is at stake. Despite the agenda taking knocks (e.g. though the policies of climate-sceptics Trump and Bolsonaro), countries are making progress with significant widespread adoption of renewable energies. Public opinion can be one of the biggest motivators of climate action amongst world leaders; the people can be heard, and it is up to us to demand climate action before it is too late.
On 3 December nations gathered at the opening of the UN COP24 to make defining decisions following the report’s release. What can we do? Join millions of others in making our voices heard through the people’s seat, an initiative to convey the public’s messages directly to world leaders at the conference through #TakeYourSeat.
It’s time to demand action now, before it’s too late.
Facts and figures taken from the IPCC report 2018: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/