Highly Anticipated IPCC Report Confirms Every Fraction of a Degree of Warming We Can Avoid Matters

Statement by Peter Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy

Published Oct 8, 2018

WASHINGTON (October 7, 2018)—In South Korea today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the summary of its finalized special report assessing the climate change impacts we can avoid if the increase in global average temperatures is limited to 1.5 rather than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—the long-term temperature targets in the Paris climate agreement—as well as the actions needed to avoid exceeding the 1.5 degree threshold. The final report is the result of hard work by scientists from across the world drawing on an exhaustive foundation of peer-reviewed scientific literature and a process that demands intensive scrutiny and consensus.

Below is a statement by Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a former lead author of the IPCC.

“Many extreme weather events in the U.S. and across the globe have been intensifying after just a one degree Celsius increase in the global average temperature. As the latest IPCC report shows us, at 1.5 degrees of warming further climate impacts will be devastating and at 2 degrees they would be calamitous.

“Every fraction of a degree of warming we can avoid matters. Limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius also means limiting extreme heat and precipitation across the world. Human lives can be saved, and coral reefs, wetlands and other vulnerable species and ecosystems better protected. The risk that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will ultimately melt, leading to catastrophic sea level rise, will also be lower. The report makes clear that rising temperatures pose existential risks—at 2 degrees much more so than 1.5—for many of the world’s most climate-vulnerable communities.

“According to the IPCC report, meeting the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature target will require bringing carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by mid-century and dramatically reducing emissions of other heat-trapping gases. This calls for transforming our energy economy and transitioning away from fossil fuels by greatly ramping up energy efficiency and embracing renewables and other low-carbon energy sources.

“Most pathways the IPCC considered also require scaling up technologies to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Rather than banking on one approach, however, the IPCC notes that nations can benefit by deploying a diverse portfolio of “carbon dioxide removal” technologies, from planting trees to capturing and then storing carbon released from burning biomass for energy, at smaller scales.

“While nations offered plans in Paris to reduce their emissions, current pledges are nowhere near enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s principal goal. Even if nations live up to their commitments, the planet will still be on a path to warm about 3 degrees Celsius. This is unacceptable. If this report doesn’t convince each and every nation that their prosperity and security requires making transformational scientific, technological, political, social and economic changes to reach this monumental goal of staving off some of the worst climate change impacts, then I don’t know what will.

“Nations must now respond to the report by signaling their intention to increase their national emission reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement. As the report makes clear, if the collective ambition of pledges is not significantly raised, the option of holding warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, much less anything approaching 1.5 degrees, will be foreclosed. 

“Countries, states and cities are already making significant strides to step up on reducing global warming emissions. Nineteen countries formed the Carbon Neutrality Coalition demonstrating their collective mission to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Likewise, California has pledged to do the same across its entire economy by 2045, and other U.S. states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey are strengthening their clean energy commitments too.

“It’s now time for the entire global community to follow suit. At the annual UN climate talks in Poland this December, countries should commit to strengthen policies that cut global warming emissions, invest in measures to limit future climate risks, and do more to help communities cope with the climate impacts that are now unavoidable. In addition, wealthier nations that bear greater responsibility for the global warming problem need to ramp up financial and technology support for actions by developing nations, to help create a better world for all of us.” 

UCS posted a series of blogs on the IPCC report in the lead up to release of its summary for policy makers. Links to those blogs can be found below: