‘Any hope’ to limit global warming to 1.5C requires immediate action, says IPCC chief
With world on track to hit 1.5C limit in early 2030s, extreme weather events have come earlier than expected, notes new chair of UN climate bod
By Nuran Erkul
LONDON (AA) — With the world now possessing the technology, methods, and funds to address climate change, it is the governments’ turn to put them to use limiting global warming, the UN panel of climate scientists’ new chair told Anadolu in an interview.
Scottish scientist Jim Skea is a veteran of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and was elected last month to lead it. In its seventh cycle of reports, he wants to focus the panel’s efforts on action that can be taken immediately to limit global warming in this decade, which will be critical in curbing its possibly catastrophic effects.
“IPCC reports on impacts, adaptation and mitigation have sent very clear signals about what the possibilities (for action) are. At this point, it is over to governments,” he said, urging authorities around the world to get a move on. “If we have any hope of limiting warming to 1.5C, it needs immediate action on mitigation.”
Noting that the findings in the last IPCC report indicated this threshold could be crossed in the early 2030s, he said this was based on long-term average warming, with temperature rises possibly exceeding 1.5C in individual years even before that time, though only temporarily.
“When the IPCC talks about the level of warming, it is actually about averages over 20 years. So, it can be different from the warming level we see in any one year,” he said.
So far, the planet has warmed by about 1.1C since the pre-industrial era due to human activities, including burning fossil fuels and unsustainable energy and land use, according to IPCC’s sixth synthesis report, released earlier this year to conclude its previous cycle of assessments.
Keeping warming to under 1.5C will require rapid and sustained cuts in greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors, slashing nearly half of the current level by 2030, it says.
- Sharp decisions ahead
Despite the urgency of addressing climate change, made more apparent in the latest extreme weather events seen across the globe this summer, countries are still going ahead with new fossil fuel investments.
Governments have been reluctant to drop fossil fuel investments all together, citing a variety of reasons, including energy security, while many developing nations with sizable oil and gas reserves want to keep exploiting these resources to help in their development effort.
“In the last IPCC report, we said that reserves would be unburnable if we were to limit warming to 1.5C or even 2C. For example, 30% of current oil reserves would need to stay in the ground if we were going to limit warming to 2C,” Skea said.
“If more and more oil and gas reserves approved up, what it will mean is that it will face sharper choices for governments in the future as to whether to leave some of these in the ground or whether to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,” he added, referring to the 2015 climate deal that enshrines the 1.5C limit.
The UK government is among the latest committing to grant over 100 new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea, as announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on July 31.
Without weighing in on the actions of individual government policies, Skea warned that the more oil and gas reserves are extracted now, for whatever reason, “it would just mean that more would need to stay in the ground if Paris Agreement goals were to be met.”
“It is a choice for policymakers. Sure, you can approve up new oil and gas reserves but it leaves a choice for the future as to what actually happens to these reserves.”
- Extreme impacts, faster than expected
The IPCC chair also said that while work to mitigate humanity’s impacts on the climate continue, the latest extreme events have made adapting to the consequences of warming more prominent on the global agenda.
“Scientists have actually been predicting that we are going to see these kinds of events we have been seeing this summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and increasingly in the Southern Hemisphere, as well,” he said.
“I think what has been a bit unexpected is how quickly these things have come upon us. That is probably the surprise. Nothing surprising that at some point we were going to see this kind of situation, but it has come more quickly, perhaps, than we all expected.”
According to Skea, some of these impacts will go beyond the world's ability to adapt as so-called “residual risks” arise in the future.
Underlining the need for national- or city-level adaptation measures, he admitted that resources, capabilities, and funding remain a major question.
“Investment gaps for adaptation are much larger than they are for mitigation and it is much more challenging because, in a way, that adaptation is a public good” and getting private money moving for public goods is much more difficult for adaptation, said Skea.
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