By Travis Tran
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]limate change is the golden standard in “public policy issues from hell,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications, in an interview with Vox. This, coupled with the recent findings of a special climate change report, points to a future in dire straits.
On October 8th, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on the state of global environmental systems under a 1.5°C (2.7°F) warming condition compared to that of 2°C (3.6°F) as outlined in the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015. Over 3 years, a team of 91 scientists from 40 countries examined over 6000 scientific research studies and received over 40,000 comments for revisions and edits. In the end, the total report nears 800 pages, but they conveniently pieced together a (relatively) short 34-page Summary for Policymakers.
“We are already seeing the consequences of 1-degree C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.,” says Panmao Zhain, one of the IPCC researchers who contributed to the report. Is half a degree significant? Absolutely. Hans-Otto Pörtner, another researcher on the IPCC team points out: “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5 degrees C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems.”
The country-specific commitments and contributions under the Paris Agreement are significant – though not aggressive enough. Current pledges would inevitably lead to near 3.0°C (5.4°F) of warming by the end of the century.
The report states that by 2100, average sea level rise will be significantly less severe under a 1.5°C condition compared to a 2°C condition. Limiting warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C will prevent 1.5-2.5 million square kilometers of permafrost from thawing. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever will stretch further outside of the tropics. Coral reef populations will decline by 70-90% under 1.5°C conditions compared to over 99% reef loss under 2ºC warming.
To stay within 1.5°C of warming, global carbon dioxide emissions must drop by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, then hit net zero emissions by 2050. (Note that when blaring headlines say the world has just 12 years to solve the climate crisis, they are referring to this 2030 fact.) Emission reductions require a “combinations of new and existing technologies and practices, including electrification, hydrogen, sustainable bio-based feedstocks, product substitution, and carbon capture, utilization and storage,” according to the report.
A 2017 report by the Carbon Majors Project revealed that 91% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 were attributed to the fossil fuel industry. 100 fossil fuel companies are collectively responsible for 71% of global emissions – including big names like ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell.
The state of Rhode Island and several US cities are suing major fossil fuel companies for injecting skepticism into the climate change conversation. In fact, a group of 21 people – ages between 11 and 22 – are suing the US federal government for neglecting climate action. The case Juliana v. United States claims it is the government’s constitutional duty to protect the life of its people – denying the severe and worsening impacts is doing the opposite.
The IPCC 1.5°C Special Report will be a key factor this December during COP24 held in Katowice, Poland as world leaders assess global progress on the Paris Agreement pledges. Ultimately, limiting warming to 1.5°C is “possible within the laws of chemistry and physics,” says IPCC researcher Jim Skea, “but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”
Travis is a sophomore in Berkeley. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.