1st November 2018
The release of a new report from the IPCC, brings with it a new sense of urgency to act on climate change and avoid exceeding important global warming thresholds.
Drawing on extensive knowledge, the report cited over 6,000 scientific references and utilised over ninety authors from 40 countries, to warn about the dangers of exceeding a 1.5C rise in temperatures. This target was part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, whereby world leaders agreed to limit temperatures rises to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, with an aim of 1.5C.
To date, we’ve experienced a temperature rise of around 1C, which has brought with it more weather extremes, a declining Arctic ice pack and a rise in sea levels. In order to meet the 1.5C target, the report states that we’d need emissions to fall by around 45% by 2030, based on 2010 levels. We’d also need to reach ‘net zero’ emissions around 2050. Should global warming continue on its current path, we’d reach the 1.5C threshold between 2030 and 2052, which gives us 12 years to try stave off potentially catastrophic climate change.
According to the report, warming will increase the exposure of low-lying islands and coastal areas to flooding and saltwater intrusion as a result of rising sea levels. Even meeting the 1.5C threshold will increase risks to food and water security, health and livelihoods. Yet exceeding this target and breaching 2C of warming could have widespread impacts.
The report authors note that limiting warming to 1.5C, as opposed to 2C could prevent the thawing of 1.5-2.5 million square kilometres of permafrost. Nearly all coral reefs would be lost with 2C of warming. It could also reduce the proportion of the people exposed to increased water stress, by as much as 50%.
The scientific basis for tackling climate change is therefore well established. We’ve known about the threats posed by climate change for many decades, thanks to the likes of Dr James Hansen’s 1988 Senate testimony. Since then, we’ve had a number of framework agreements, but concrete political action to address climate change has been woefully absent. As Caroline Lucas said, “This report couldn’t be written in stronger terms: we are at a tipping point on the edge of complete climate breakdown, and governments around the world are failing to prevent it.”
Putting aside the likes of America, who are pulling out of the Paris Agreement, and Australia, who are considering it, the rest of the world isn’t doing enough to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. In Jonathan Watt’s recent article, he mentions that nations who are in support of the Paris agreement, are engaged in activities which run counter to their commitments, with fracking going ahead in Britain, Norway pursuing Arctic oil exploration, and the German government’s plans to raise Hambach forest for the coal below.
The IPCC’s report states that on our current pathway, we’re on track for around 3C of warming by 2100. We should be gravely concerned by our political leader’s lack of will to address the greatest threat our species has faced.
While politicians have taken their eye off the ball, there are others who are very focused on preventing dangerous climate change. Greta Thunberg, is a 15 year old who understands the climate crisis better than many politicians. She went on strike from her school prior to the Swedish elections, because Sweden hadn’t prioritised climate change, “What am I going to learn in school? Facts don’t matter any more, politicians aren’t listening to the scientists, so why should I learn?”
It says a lot when a 15 year old girl shows more courage than many of the world’s politicians, and highlights the complete lack of proper leadership during this critical period.
The message to each and every world leader is clear, we need to reduce our emissions urgently and that means taking tough actions now. If you’re not bold enough to do this, then you’re not fit for office in this pivotal moment of human history. Either step up to the challenge or step down so that future generations don’t bear the brunt of your mistakes.