On Monday, 8 October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its special report “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” (SR15), the Technical Summary of the report, as well as the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM), which presents its key findings. The report brought together all three working groups of the IPCC working on one report for the first time, involving 91 authors and review editors from 40 countries. It was prepared as a response to the invitation by the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways” contained in Decision 1/CP.21 on the adoption of the Paris Agreement. As part of the Agreement Parties commit to “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.” For many years, the 2°C limit to global warming was perceived as the goal of climate negotiations. However, in 2015 the UNFCCC published a report which indicated that the risks of climate change would be significantly lower when global warming is limited to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and recommend “While science on the 1.5 °C warming limit is less robust, efforts should be made to push the defence line as low as possible”.
Climate-related impacts and risks and the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C
The now published IPCC report constitutes a robust basis for the above findings. With more than 6000 scientific references cited it assesses the difference between the 1.5°C and 2°C temperature goal. What the report reveals is alarming: Global warming has almost reached 1°C compared to the average temperature in the pre-industrial era and is currently increasing by 0.2°C per decade due to past and ongoing emissions. The impacts of this have already been felt around the world, posing extensive risks to natural and human systems. This is in line with what RegionsAdapt members report annually through CDP’s states and regions reporting platform. They are experiencing and expect to further experience extensive risks resulting from the impacts of climate change, e.g. damage to human lives, infrastructure and ecosystems due to extreme weather events, health impacts from extreme heat or certain socio-economic risks. These risks are likely to become worse in the future if immediate actions are not taken. The IPCC report warns that future climate-related risks are larger if warming exceeds the 1.5°C threshold and reaches 2°C, and further specifies the difference in impact and associated risks between a 1.5°C and 2°C global warming, including:
- Extreme hot days in mid latitudes warm by 3°C at global warming of 1.5°C and about 4°C at 2°C;
- Risks from drought and precipitation deficits are higher at 2°C compared to 1.5°C;
- Global mean sea level rise is projected to be around 0.1m lower at 1.5°C than 2°C. This implies that up to 10 million fewer people would be exposed to related risks;
- Limiting global warming to 1.5°C is projected to significantly lower the impacts on ecosystems, maintaining more ecosystem services to human beings;
- A global warming of 2°C would result in the loss of insect species three times higher compared to a 1.5°C warming, and would double the loss of plants and vertebrates;
- Coral reefs are expected to disappear almost entirely at 2°C global warming, while a 1.5°C warming would “only” mean a decline of further 70-90%;
- Global warming of 2°C would increase the possibility of a sea-ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer by ten, resulting in one see-ice-free Arctic summer per decade compared to one per century at 1.5°C global warming;
- Several hundred million people less could be exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty, when limiting global warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C.
While these are already alarming facts, the report lists a number of further impacts and risks related to global warming and underlines that these would be less intense for a warming of 1.5°C instead of 2°C. On the other hand, and keeping in mind that global warming already occurs with associated impacts and risks, adaptation can reduce the risks of climate change, more easily if global warming is limited to 1.5°C.
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C
The report stresses that while adaptation and mitigation practices are already being implemented, “future climate-related risks would be reduced by the upscaling and acceleration of far-reaching, multi-level and cross-sectoral mitigation and by both incremental and transformational adaptation.”
Involving regional governments in national and international climate policy development and implementation would raise ambition, strengthen adaptation and mitigation efforts, as well as increase acceptance of such policies on the citizen level. While some regional governments are involved in national adaptation and mitigation planning, others see themselves ploughing a lonely furrow. Nevertheless, they are taking their responsibilities seriously and step up on climate action. International networks like nrg4SD and the RegionsAdapt initiative can strengthen regional governments’ efforts on climate strategies and actions and support their development and implementation. By constituting platforms of support and knowledge exchange, they assist regions from around the world to learn from each other’s best practices, as well as failures.
While climate action should encompass not only mitigation, and adaptation efforts are crucial, already today, it is of great importance to stick with the goal of the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to well below 2°C, aiming for 1.5°C in order to reduce associated risks and adaptation needs. This is not impossible as the report points out, and “the lower the emission in 2030, the lower the challenge in limiting global warming to 1.5°C after 2030 […].” However, it requires unprecedent transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure, as well as industrial systems. These transitions include:
- Increase the supply of renewable energy sources to 70-85% of electricity in 2050;
- Use of coal to be reduced to 0-2% of electricity;
- Reduction of CO2 emissions from industry by about 75-90% in 2050 relative to 2010 through new and existing technologies, including electrification, hydrogen, sustainable bio-based feedstocks, product substitution, as well as carbon capture, utilisation and storage;
- Urban and infrastructure transitions, like changes in land and urban planning practices, as well as deep emission reductions in transport and buildings;
- Global and regional land use changes, including the conversion of pasture and non-pasture agricultural land for food and feed crops into land for energy crops.
Regional governments are actively working on these system transitions. With their specific responsibilities in key sectors, like energy, transport, infrastructure, industry, agriculture and land use, they develop and implement policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change that can serve as good examples for more ambitious action on the national level. As seen in countries were the national government is not willing or in the capacity to act accordingly on limiting global warming and adapt to its impacts, regional governments are stepping in, partnering with local governments and the private sector. However, ideally all levels of governance should take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the climate change impacts that cannot be avoided. In this sense, the report underlines that multi-level governance, among others, constitutes an enabling condition for enhancing the feasibility of mitigation and adaptation options. The report further argues that mitigation and adaptation options that enable urban and rural transitions “are most effective when aligned with economic and sustainable development and when local and regional governments and decision makers are supported by national governments.” In this regard, the nrg4SD is advocating for international recognition of regional governments and the vertical integration of the global agendas for more than 15 years now, as well as supporting regional governments through knowledge exchange and capacity-building activities.
The relation with sustainable development
As can be drawn from the report, trade-offs between mitigation and adaptation efforts should be prevented, but these two are not the only fields that are linked. Climate change impacts and responses are also closely linked to sustainable development. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would mean greater avoided impacts on sustainable development and poverty reduction, compared to a 2°C warming. The report points out that especially adaptation options, if context-specific, will have benefits for sustainable development and poverty reduction, even though trade-offs might occur. These trade-offs can be reduced by keeping attention to sustainable development and poverty when developing adaptation strategies. Moreover, reducing vulnerabilities of human and natural systems through adaptation has many synergies with sustainable development, including food and water security, disaster risk reduction, improved health conditions, maintaining ecosystem services and reducing poverty and inequality. The work of the nrg4SD can help to reduce trade-offs between sustainable development and adaptation, since the network is active in both fields: It supports regional governments in the development and implementation of adaptation actions and strategies, as well as in the localisation of the SDGs.
Synergies do not only occur between adaptation and sustainable development, there exist also multiple synergies with mitigation pathways aiming at 1.5°C global warming. The IPCC report indicates, that in particular the SDGs 3 (health), 7 (clean energy), 11 (cities and human settlements), 12 (responsible consumption and production), and 14 (ocean) have synergies with these mitigation pathways. Nonetheless, some measures and actions associated with the 1.5°C mitigation pathways could also have significant trade-offs with sustainable development. Therefore, they have to be carefully managed. Regional governments are in a perfect position to do so. Their territorial perspective enables them to reduce trade-offs between different policies and sectors. In addition, they are close to the level where actions are more likely to produce measurable results and establish partnerships with different sectors, as well as dialogue with other levels of government.
In conclusion, it can be said that the IPCC 1.5 Special Report helps to understand the urgency for stepping up ambition for climate action and illustrates the alarming consequences of inaction or insufficient action. The report is an important source for the negotiations at COP 24 in Katowice on the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement and will serve as input to the Talanoa Dialogue, based on COP 23 Decision 1/CP.23. While Parties are still negotiating on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and its goals, regional governments, supported by international associations and organisation like the nrg4SD, are already addressing the challenges of limiting and adapting to global warming. They are teaming up with other non-State actors to complement national and international efforts in climate action. In this regard, the RegionsAdapt 2018 Report to be launched at COP 24 will be an opportunity to learn more about the numerous efforts regional governments are undertaking in adapting to climate change.
As of 18 October 2018, the full text of the IPCC 1.5°C Report is subject to changes to ensure consistency with the approved Summary for Policymakers.