Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report 2018[i]
The IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Change was formally approved and accepted at Incheon, Korea last Saturday. The Report presents alarming findings on global risks of continued inadequate response to climate change.Despite the shabby figures released on Grand Final eve as to Australia’s rising greenhouse gas emissions, Australian scientists played important roles in the IPCC’s report.
The IPPC’s Vice-Chair is Professor Mark Howden from ANU’s Climate Change Institute. Other drafting authors include eminent Australian scientists from across Australia and within CSIRO[ii].
The Report, moderate and technical in its approach, has dramatic implications. The Summary for Policymakers Report contains 4 sections:
A. Understanding Global Warming of 1.5˚C;
B. Project Climate Change, Potential Impacts and Associated Risks;
C. Emission Pathways and System Transitions Consistent with 1.5˚C Global Warming; and
D. Strengthening the Global Response in the Context of Sustainable Development and Efforts to eradicate Poverty.
We overview each section below.
A. Understanding Global Warming of 1.5˚C
The Report states that, at current rates, 1.5˚C warming will be reached in ~2030-2052, ie when our babies now are teenagers or, at latest, young adults.
The climate-related risks are higher in a global warming scenario of 1.5˚C than they are at present but they are significantly lower than if there were to be a 2˚C warming. The Report notes that many land and ocean ecosystems, and some of the services they provide, have already changed due to global warming and that such loss may now be long-lasting or irreversible.
The Report states that upscaling and accelerating far-reaching, multi-level and cross-sectoral climate mitigation would reduce future climate-related risks, as would both incremental and transformational adaption.
B. Project Climate Change, Potential Impacts and Associated Risks
Climate models project 1.5˚C – 2˚C. Sea level rise will persist beyond 2100, but with a lower rise if global warming is 1.5˚C, rather than 2˚C, with consequent impact on terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems and fisheries.
The Report clearly warns that “climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase even with global warming of 1.5 ˚C and will increase much further with 2 ˚C.[iv]” This is sober reading indeed.
The Report makes the obvious point that adaptation options, health risks and overall community cost will be reduced if warming is retained at 1.5 ˚C. At higher levels this adaptation itself becomes more challenging. Adaptations include coastal defence, irrigation, social safety nets, disaster management, water use, ecosystem restoration, biodiversity management and sustainable aquaculture.
C. Emission Pathways and System Transitions Consistent with 1.5˚C Global Warming
Reaching 1.5 ˚C involves “deep reductions in emissions of methane and black carbon (35% or more by 2050 relative to 2010)[v]” and “also reduction of most of the cooling aerosols. In addition, targeted non-CO2 mitigation would involve reduction of nitrous oxide from agriculture, methane from the waste sector and sources of black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons[vi]”.
To achieve this “requires limiting the total cumulative global anthropogenic emissions of CO2 since the preindustrial period” involving “rapid and bar-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems…[vii]”
Such system changes “have occurred within specific sectors, technologies and spatial contexts, but there is no documented historic precedent for their scale”[viii] (emphasis added). They require 75-90% reduction in industry emissions[ix]. Renewables ought to supply 70-85% energy[x]. Changed land and urban planning practices and deeper emission reductions in transport and buildings are required immediately[xi]. Vastly increased investment in mitigation is required[xii].
Now that presents a serious challenge.
Who in Australia is ‘on’ to this challenge right now – today?
Victoria’s Climate Change Act 2017 (CCA) provided a long-term reductions target in Victoria of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (s6 CCA), with the Premier and the relevant Minister responsible for ensuring this target is met (s8 CCA).
The Australian Government, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, agreed to pursue the global goal to hold to well below 2˚C, preferably below 1.5˚C. However, government response to this IPCC Report has been anything but supportive. The Prime Minister deferred responsibility for the Report’s demands by stating that “there are a lot bigger players out there”.[xiii] The deputy Prime Minister stated that the government will not change its policy because of “some sort of report”[xiv]. The Federal Environmental Minister stated that it is “drawing a long bow” to call for coal power to phase out by 2050.[xv]
If there is an overshoot beyond a rise of 1.5 ˚C, the ultimate level of carbon dioxide removal that will then be required increases significantly. The Report, horrifyingly, notes that “understanding is still limited about the effectiveness of net negative emissions to reduce temperatures after they peak”[xvi]. It notes the obvious point that a return to 1.5 ˚C after any overshoot would be limited by the speed, scale and societal acceptability of carbon dioxide removal deployment[xvii]. It points to possible competition between required measures and the need for effective governance to limit and manage required trade offs[xviii]. Upscaling carbon dioxide removal with an overshoot of 0.2˚C may actually prove impossible[xix].
The Report warns that avoiding overshoot can only be achieved if CO2 levels start to decline before 2030, ie well before the babies become teenagers[xx].
D. Strengthening the Global Response in the Context of Sustainable Development and Efforts to Eradicate Poverty
The Report articulates the link between climate change impacts and achievement of sustainable development, balancing social well-being, economic prosperity and environmental protection[xxi]. It notes the need for consideration of equity and ethics to address unevenly distributed adverse impacts[xxii].
Underpinning the 1.5 ˚C warming target there need to be enabling conditions including strengthened multi-level governance, institutional capacity, policy instruments, technological innovation, finance, changed lifestyles and human behaviour[xxiii]. The Report points to education, information, and community approaches, including those informed by Indigenous and local knowledge, as mechanisms to accelerate progress, particularly when combined with policies and tailored to specific actors and contexts[xxiv]. It sees international cooperation providing an enabling environment and as a ‘critical enabler’ for developing countries and vulnerable regions[xxv]. Public-private partnerships and multi-level governance across industry, society and scientific institutions will ensure transparency, participation capacity building and learning[xxvi].
The Report is alarming. Clearly, a sluggish response is unacceptable. A modulated sense of panic permeates the careful technical contents of this most important report.
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[i] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5˚C: an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty, Summary for Policymakers (8 October 2018). Retrieved from http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf.
The full Report can be found at http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/.
[ii] Professor Howden was a Review Editor of the Report. Drafting Authors included Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, inaugural chair of Global Change Institute and Professor of Marine Science at University of Queensland, Dr Elvira Poloczanska, CSIRO’s Marine and Atmospheric Research Division and Professor Petra Tschakert, Faculty of Science, University of Western Australia School of Agriculture and Environment.
[iii] Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, ‘Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: December 2017: Incorporating NEM Electricity emissions up to March 2018’, revised 18 May 2018. Retrieved from http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/7b9824b8-49cc-4c96-b5d6-f03911e9a01d/files/nggi-quarterly-update-dec-2017-revised.pdf .
[iv] Report, B5.
[v] Report, C1.2.
[vi] Report, C1.2.
[vii] Report, C1.3.
[viii] Report, C2.1.
[ix] Report, C2.3.
[x] Report, C2.2.
[xi] Report, C2.4. and C2.5.
[xii] Report, C.2.6.
[xvi] Report, C3.3.
[xvii] Report, C3.3.
[xviii] Report, C3.4.
[xix] Report, D1.2. The challenges include ‘cost escalation, lock-in in carbon-emitting infrastructure, stranded assets, and reduced flexibility in future response options…’ D1.3.
[xx] Report, D1.
[xxi] Report, D2.1.
[xxii] Report, D2.2.
[xxiii] Report, C2.3.
[xxiv] Report, D5.6.
[xxv] Report, D7.
[xxvi] Report, D7, D7.1., D7.2., D7.3. and D7.4.
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