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Global Warning
31Oct

Global Warning

On 8th October 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report stating that the world stands on the verge of failure when it comes to holding climate change to moderate levels and that there is only a decade to try and cut emissions.[1]

Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries prepared the IPCC report, which began as a request from the 195 nations that signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 asking the question: should humans restrict global warming to 2C or 1.5C below pre-industrial levels?  Three years on, the answer has come in the form of a 400-page report, with 6,000 scientific references cited, and thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide, and it is that the stricter 1.5C should be the new target to achieve and stick to by 2030 (that’s just 12 years from now).

The report shows that 1.5C is enough to unleash climate pandemonium, and to avoid an even hotter world we need to quickly and completely transform not just the global economy, but society too. We are already experiencing dangerous, and indeed deadly, heatwaves, wildfires and floods, along with superstorms swollen by rising sea levels. The Great Barrier Reef, already clobbered by coral bleaching in a world that has warmed about 1C, faces obliteration if warming continues at its current rate. Globally, coral reefs would decline by a further 70 to 90% under global warming of 1.5C and ‘virtually all’ would be lost with 2C. [2]

All scenarios in the report for keeping global warming to 1.5C would involve cutting the use of coal-powered electricity to virtually nothing by 2050. The report states that carbon emissions would need to be cut by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, which would allow carbon emissions to reach ‘net zero’ by around 2050; that means coal-fired power phased out entirely and the share of gas cut to about a third, with renewable sources providing 70-85%  by mid-century.

‘We’re currently heading towards about 3 degrees or 4 degrees of warming by 2100,’ said Mark Howden, director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University and one of the review's editors. ‘Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is not impossible but would actually require major transitions in many aspects of society, and to do those transitions, the next 10 years are critical.’ Many of those transitions will mean curbing if not halting entirely the release of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, land-clearing and other human activities.

For the first time in an IPCC report, the authors included social and economic impacts. ‘Limiting global warming to 1.5C instead of 2C could result in around 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves, and about 65 million fewer people being exposed to exceptional heatwaves, assuming constant vulnerability,’ the report said. Environmental groups are spruiking legal action against governments which fail to act; Tessa Khan, co-director of the Climate Litigation Network, has said that, ‘If governments fail to drastically and urgently reduce emissions, they are knowingly contributing to the dangers of a world that is at least 1.5 degrees warmer,’ and that, ‘This has clear legal consequences and governments will inevitably be held accountable for knowingly putting people in harm’s way,’ noting that citizens in the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Colombia, the US and New Zealand have already taken their governments to court.

Litigation as a global tool in the fight against climate change is indeed proving increasingly popular; just a day after the release of the IPCC report, a court in the Hague ruled against the Dutch government, ordering the government to accelerate carbon emissions cuts.  Marjan Minnesma, the director of the Urgenda campaign which brought the case, called on political leaders to start fighting climate change rather than court actions, saying that, ‘The special report of the IPCC emphasises that we need to reduce emissions with much greater urgency. The Dutch government knows that as a low-lying country, we are on the frontline of climate change… The court of appeal’s decision puts all governments on notice. They must act now, or they will be held to account.’[3]

In addition to the possible implications for governments, last week the ABC reported that for the first time, Australian company directors have nominated climate change as the number one issue they want the federal government to address in the long term, according to a survey of more than 1,200 company directors. [4] The Australian Institute of Company Directors' (AICD) biannual Director Sentiment shows directors are listening to regulators’ warnings about the risks of climate change and the fact that they may, in future, be held liable for failing to act. The report states that directors were not just being influenced by regulator warnings, but also a push from investors to act, and that they are frustrated by the failure of political leaders on issues like energy policy.

This certainly seemed to be reflected by the noises coming out of Canberra following the release of the IPCC report. The Prime Minister’s first response was to promise that Australia would be spending no money on climate change conferences and ‘all that nonsense’. His deputy, Michael McCormack was also quoted as saying that Australia can keep on burning coal for decades and that Australia will not be dictated to by ‘some sort of report.’ [5] The difference with this latest report is that, as mentioned above, it is an agreed text with more than 6,000 scientific references cited, thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide, and it was approved by all countries, including Australia and the U.S.

In contrast, Claire Perry, the UK minister for energy, said that, ‘I welcome the strong scientific analysis behind today’s IPCC report and its conclusions are stark and sober. As policymakers we need to work together to accelerate the low-carbon transition to minimise the costs and misery of a rapidly warming world.’[6]

This call to action reflects the purpose of the UN report and its message that there is a limit to the amount of carbon we can pump into the atmosphere, beyond which it becomes impossible to restrict the temperature rise to 1.5C. Overshooting that mark means that there are fewer options for sustainable development. Renewable energy is a critical part of the solution and there are technology options available now, including Energy360’s bioenergy systems which offer significant baseload, renewable energy and battery-like capabilities to complement wind and solar. Public opinion in Australia is compellingly on the side of renewables and climate action, making it politically and practically easier to make the move away from coal.

 

[1] Charis Chang, News.com.au, October 8th 2018

[2] The Sydney Morning Herald, October 8th 2018

[3] The Guardian Australia, October 10th 2018

[4] Naseem Khadem, ABC News, October 25th 2018

[5] Giles Parkinson, Reneweconomy, October 9th 2018

[6] Tweet by Claire Perry, October 8th 2018


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