1.5 degrees Celsius climate goal 'very unlikely' but doable: Draft UN report

1.5 degrees Celsius climate goal 'very unlikely' but doable: Draft UN report

Skopje chimneys
A picture taken from Vodno Mountain shows smoke rising from chimneys of a factory in an area with a high level of air pollution in Skopje on Dec 15, 2017. (Photo: AFP/Robert Atanasovski)

PARIS: The Paris Agreement goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius will slip beyond reach unless nations act now to slash carbon pollution, curb energy demand, and suck CO2 from the air, according to a draft UN report.

Without such efforts, "holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century [is] extremely unlikely," said the 1,000-page report, prepared by hundreds of scientists.

"There is a very high risk that under current emissions trajectories, and current national pledges, global warming will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels."

On current trends, Earth's thermometer will cross that threshold in the 2040s, said the report.

The greenhouse gas emissions guaranteeing that outcome will have been released within 10 to 15 years.

Under any scenario, there is no model that projects a 66-per cent-or-better chance of holding global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the synthesis of recent scientific studies concluded.

With only a single degree Celsius of warming so far, our planet is already coping with a crescendo of climate impacts including deadly droughts, erratic rainfall, and storm surges engorged by rising seas.

The landmark, 197-nation climate treaty, inked in 2015, calls for limiting global warming to "well under" 2 degrees Celsius, and "pursuing efforts" for the 1.5 degrees Celsius cap.

All countries made voluntary carbon-cutting pledges, running out to 2030.

At the same time, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) was mandated to prepare a special 1.5 degrees Celsius report covering impacts and feasibility.

The final version, vetted by governments, will be unveiled in October.

MORAL HAZARD

Pressure for the lower temperature target and the report came from nations whose fate could turn on the half-degree difference between a 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius world.

Rising seas, for example, threaten the existence of small island states and could displace tens of millions in Bangladesh, Vietnam and other counties with densely populated river deltas.

"There is a tipping point on sea level rise" - driven mainly by melting icesheets on Greenland and Antarctica - "somewhere between 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius," said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

"With 2 degrees Celsius, according to our models, sea level will just keep on rising," he told AFP.

The pathways that do exist for stabilising at 1.5 degrees Celsius would require breaching that threshold and then dialling down Earth's surface temperature by drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere and then using if for fuel or storing it underground.

None of technologies that do this exist today on an industrial scale, and some experts fear the long-shot 1.5 degrees Celsius target could pose problems of its own.

"Any scenario for 1.5 degrees Celsius stabilisation likely requires a dubious dependence on 'negative emissions' technologies, whereas 2 degrees Celsius stabilisation is still possible without that," said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

The lure of silver-bullet fixes, he and others point out, could weaken resolve to reduce greenhouse emissions at their source - an unintended side-effect known as "moral hazard".

Ensuring even a 50/50 chance of a 1.5 degrees Celsius world would require the equivalent of a climate change Marshall Plan, the study concluded.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

By 2050, carbon dioxide emissions would need to fall to "net" zero, meaning that any CO2 released into the air would have to be offset. Renewable energy sources - mainly solar and wind - would by then be the dominant energy source, and burning coal a distant memory.

Other planet-warming gases such as methane and HFCs would also have to be drastically reduced.

"Rapid and large-scale behaviour and lifestyle changes," such as a shift away from eating meat, will also be essential, the report said.

"We don't have any margin for less than total commitment," said Chris Field, Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment in California and a former co-chair of the IPCC's Working Group II.

"Tackling climate is making serious investments more than making exactly the right mix of investments."

IPCC officials and scientists cautioned that the report - which has already gone through three rounds of editing by scientists - is bound to change before it is approved by governments at a meeting in October.

"Drafts are collective works-in-progress that do not necessarily represent the IPCC's final assessment," said IPCC spokesman Jonathan Lynn.

The current review cycle is the first in which government officials will submit comments.

"The final approval process is a dialogue between governments - which have requested and will use the report - and the scientists who have written it," he told AFP.

Source: AFP/ec

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