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Four things to watch for in U.N. climate panel's 1.5C report

by Sven Harmeling | CARE INTERNATIONAL
Friday, 28 September 2018 08:56 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Whatever the politics at play, the report has been a tremendous scientific exercise, triggering and processing a wave of new findings

In the first week of October, scientists and governments will meet in Korea to finalise and approve the Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on 1.5°C from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a major scientific undertaking on the latest climate change research, launched at the U.N. climate conference in Paris in 2015.

Here are four key areas we at CARE will be looking at:

1. What does it take to get the world to a 1.5°C pathway in a sustainable manner?

The report is expected to focus on these questions: What needs to be done in terms of emissions reductions to limit global warming to 1.5°C from pre-industrial times? How fast, in which sectors, with what technological, lifestyle and political solutions, and at what costs, risks and benefits?

An important step led by the IPCC report has been the development of new scenarios that model ways to achieve the 1.5°C goal agreed in the Paris climate pact with a much smaller reliance than in previous scenarios on often problematic carbon-dioxide removal and the temporary overshoot of the lower temperature target. A common feature of these new scenarios is that we need to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions very, very quickly - not in 10 or 15 years’ time, but now.

Such a reduction in CO2 emissions would reduce the need to rely on speculative and potentially risky technologies of carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. Much of the reduction can be achieved with technologies already available - in particular transitioning to renewable energy sources.

Past IPCC debates have shown that governments often try to water down clear statements by highlighting the non-policy-prescriptive mandate of the climate science body. We might see a similar reaction in Korea.  

As coal burning is one of the most significant sources of CO2 emissions, suggesting a strong decline in coal use (if not a phase-out) - which the IPCC report might do - would be logical, not policy-prescriptive. It is up to policy makers, globally, nationally and locally,  to design policies for managing such transformations,  not to try to hide key scientific findings.

It is also important to take a closer look at the findings in relation to agriculture and land-use. CARE advocates in favour of agricultural practices that promote a sustainable, productive, equitable and resilient food system, with a particular emphasis on women smallholder farmers and their families. These are key parameters that should guide enhanced climate action in light of the 1.5°C limit.

 2. What will we learn about climate change impacts and the need to adapt?

The IPCC report has a key task of bringing together all relevant research on the varying impacts of climate change at different temperature levels, and synthesising those findings to help policymakers and institutions understand the impacts that could be avoided by limiting warming to 1.5°C - which will be massive.

It is also important to speak the truth about the catastrophic risks of the level of warming of 3 or more degrees that we should expect from the current collective efforts under the Paris Agreement.

Looking at the differences between 1.5°C and 2°C is not enough to paint an adequate picture of the climate reality. As a response to the risks, more mitigation is needed, but of course also a massive boost for adaptation and resilience building, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable, with many solutions offering synergies with the Sustainable Development Goals. There is also a lot of evidence available on the need for gender-responsive measures that the IPCC should highlight.

3. How will climate change loss and damage be addressed in the report?

In the preparatory discussions, there was some controversy over the extent to which the report should work with the framing of loss and damage. Loss and damage - the climate impacts occurring despite adaptation efforts - has its own article in the Paris Agreement, is addressed under a specific UNFCCC mechanism and also leaves its footprint in scientific literature.

For many vulnerable countries, adaptation to reduce the impacts of climate change will reach its limits, even if support from developed countries is massively scaled-up. It would be alarming if the IPCC report were to ignore this climate reality.

 4. Climate finance: International solidarity based on obligations

The IPCC report will also include a chapter on “strengthening and implementing the global response”. It will be interesting to see how the IPCC’s findings speak to the enormous finance gap that exists between support provided by developed countries and the adaptation costs incurred by developing nations, which are estimated to rise to almost $300 billion by 2030.

Even if a range of instruments is needed to provide, mobilise and shift finance into sustainable and 1.5°C-consistent approaches, finance from wealthy governments continues to play an important role, both in practice and in politics, given their obligations under the U.N climate change convention and the Paris Agreement. But the IPCC also has a chance to highlight the potential of innovative sources to generate new and additional public funding.

Overall, it is essential that the report is approved at the session in Korea and not blocked by countries hoping to undermine rapid climate action, as it has been a tremendous scientific exercise, triggering and processing a wave of new findings.

The consensual nature of the Summary for Policymakers has its merits, as it encapsulates the state of the debate accepted by all governments.

But we also need to be clear about the nature of its eventual compromises, with the underlying scientific chapters providing much more valuable information for governments and everyone else to consider when deciding on next steps to enhance action, such as at December’s climate conference.

Ignoring the report’s findings and continuing on a disastrous business-as-usual-pathway will not be acceptable anywhere.