The landmark report on global warming of 1.5°C presented by the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday October 8, 2018 in Incheon, South Korea warned that unprecedented changes are urgently needed to save the planet from a climate catastrophe. A special focus was placed on the question of the significance of the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C, and how it can still be achieved.
The Big Difference between 1.5°C and 2°C
- The most severe impact would be to nature: at 2°C, half of plants and crops are almost twice as likely to be destroyed compared to 1.5°C, which would eliminate habitat for insects vital for pollination. A devastating 99% of corals would be lost at 2°C, whereas more than 10% have a chance to survive at the lower temperature.
- If global warming reaches 2°C, the extreme heat that roasted countries in the northern hemisphere this summer would affect more than a third of the global population at least once every five years, leading to an increased heat-related mortality rate and forest fires.
- At 1.5°C, hundreds of millions fewer people would face the risk of climate-caused poverty: global water scarcity could be 50% lower, with a reduced risk of food shortages.
- If global warming is kept at 2°C, the Arctic Sea ice is ten times more likely to melt, destroying the habitat of polar bears, whales, seals and sea birds. At 1.5°C, the global sea level rise would be 10cm lower by 2100, compared to what it would be at the higher temperature.
The Way Forward
91 scientists from 40 different countries within the IPCC created four scenarios to achieve the goal of 1.5°C. All four pathways envisage a quick coal phase-out, a strong reduction of oil and gas usage, an expansion in renewable energies and a complete removal of CO2. One scenario recommends global energy conservation, climate-friendly land use, and reforestation in order to reduce CO2. The other three plans consider untested, risky and contentious technologies of CO2 capture from the atmosphere.
Yes, we can – but do we want to?
Jim Skea, co-chair of the working group on mitigation stated: “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.”
President Donald Trump is withdrawing the USA — the world’s largest contributor of historical emissions — from the Paris Agreement, while Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro announced his own intention to follow suit, as well as opening the Amazon rainforest to agribusiness. Currently the world is heading for a fatal 3°C of global warming with Britain’s gas fracking, Norway’s oil exploration in the Arctic, and Germany’s plans to tear down the Hambach forest to dig for coal.
Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for the Washington Post calls on journalists to raise awareness: “Just as the smartest minds in earth science have issued their warning, the best minds in media should be giving sustained attention to how to tell this most important story in a way that will create change.”
According to environmental editor of Deutsche Welle, Soya Diehn, it’s not a question of ‘Can we keep global warming below 1.5°C? The question is ‘Do we want to?’
Image credit: Sergio Garzon