A matter of degrees: Why the 1.5C temperature goal matters to vulnerable countries

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Philippine EnviroNews, Philippines

For most vulnerable countries, 1.5 C warming limit is critical. For countries such as the Philippines and small, low-lying islands in Asia and the Pacific Region, lower temperature target means survival. For millions of people, climate change is also a human rights issue, threat to human security.

This week, the world’s leading climate scientists are finalizing the most important climate science report of 2018, the special report entitled ‘Global Warming of 1.5 C’ scheduled to be released on October 8.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is working with the representatives of the governments from 195 countries in Incheon, South Korea in finalizing the Summary for Policymakers of the report. The special report on 1.5C was mandated by world’s governments when they adopted the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit the rise in average global temperatures to well below 2ºC and as close as possible to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.  Keeping average global temperature increases as low as possible is key to limiting future potentially severe climate change impacts around the world.

“ Scientists have been warning us for years that we can expect to see more extreme weather with climate change. The heat waves, wildfires, and heavy rainfall events of recent months all over the world underscore these warnings,” IPCC chair Hoesung Lee told the opening session on Monday. “Science alerts us to the gravity of the situation, but science also, and this special report in particular, helps us understand the solutions available to us.”

The current climate change impacts which can already be observed today are the result of an approximately 1ºC global average temperature rise. Examples of extreme weather this year range from record heat in northern Europe and historic flooding in Japan, India, southeast Asia and the southeastern United States.

Governments have asked the IPCC for an assessment of warming of 1.5 degrees, its impacts and related emissions pathways, to help them address climate change, Hoesung added. “ We will work together in a constructive and collaborative spirit to produce a strong, robust and clear Summary for Policymakers that responds to the invitation of governments three years ago while upholding the scientific integrity of the IPCC.”

A matter of survival

Placing the 1.5C limit alongside the legally binding goal to hold global temperature “well below 2C above pre-industrial levels” in the Paris Agreement was a major victory for vulnerable countries, Filipino climate expert Lourdes Tibig.

“Rightly so, because more and more scientific analysis regarding what a 2C and a 1.5C temperature-increase within the 21st century would mean indicate increased climate risks that could mean survival to most of us in the developing world,” said Tibig, who is a member of the Philippine Climate Change Commission’s National Panel of Technical Experts.

Tibig explained that any global temperature limit is associated with a carbon budget, which is the allowed total of global cumulative CO2 emissions in order to meet a given global warming goal. Historical emissions to date already indicate high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at present and this means that the remaining greenhouse gas and carbon budget-allowance are already way too small, she added. “ For 1.5C scenarios, zero carbon dioxide emissions globally are needed by about 2050 or even much earlier, with global emissions peaking no later than about 2020 before rapidly declining.”

For Tibig, these avoided differential climate impacts are but few of the compelling reasons for a 1.5C pathway.

“ There would be large savings in avoided damage to economic growth as well as cleaner air, and high levels of job creation with workforce experiencing lower occupational health risks and being more productive,” she said, adding that transitioning from fossil fuel -based energy to renewable energy sources enables most countries to take advantage of localized energy wealth, reducing reliance on potentially risky supplies of imported fuels that can affect the balance of trade, increasing opportunities to take advantage of renewable energy to ensure smooth and reliable long-term growth, decoupling their economies from the price volatility of fossil fuels.

“Global mean temperatures in 2017 were about 1.1 °C above pre-industrial levels. Unfortunately, we are already well on the way to the 1.5°C limit and the sustained warming trend shows no sign of relenting. The past two decades included 18 of the warmest years since records began in 1850,” said World Meteorological Organization Deputy-Secretary-General Elena Manaenkova in Incheon, adding that the long-term climate change indicators highlight the need for urgent climate action.

A stronger voice for climate-vulnerable nations

Commenting on his expectations for the report, Gebru Jember Endalew, Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group said the report and the Summary for Policy Makers clearly sets out the scientific necessity of limiting global warming to 1.5C as opposed to 2C to protect people and the planet and highlights the vast discrepancy between this goal and our current global emissions pathway.

"Governments across the world must take the report seriously and respond with science-based policies to spur genuine emissions reductions. Our world's natural systems place limits on us that we cannot negotiate and all countries need to respond accordingly with fair and ambitious climate action,” Endalew said.

According to the Climate Analytics, a nonprofit Germany-based climate science and policy institute, the 1.5C limit is “technically and economically feasible to achieve” but urgent emission reductions are needed, requiring political will and engagement.

Limiting the rise to 1.5°C results in the least economic losses of all potentially achievable levels of warming, avoiding a loss of USD $12 trillion (approximately 10 % of global GDP) to the global economy by 2050, according to the 2016 study prepared by the Climate Analytics. Stringent mitigation action would also reduce losses by approximately 1% by the 2040s in developed countries, including for the United States, Japan and Germany.

“ Economic losses due to future global warming are complex to predict. The new results presented in this report focus on direct effects of a temperature rise and do not factor in climate change losses induced for example by sea level rise or extreme flooding events, or deliberate additional adaptation measures that would incur further costs but could decrease losses”, the report stated.

Only though increasing ambition, working collectively on climate change can the global community ensure the protection of the people across the world, said Secretary Emmanuel De Guzman of the Philippines’ Climate Change Commission.

“ We must deliver. We need to translate our commitments into action and that’s what we must do to achieve the Paris Agreement. We are elated that the voice of the vulnerable countries are increasingly visible and dynamic,” De Guzman said.

Through the leadership of the Philippines in the past climate negotiations, the 1.5C goal advocacy was adopted in the Paris Agreement. It was also able to increase the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) member countries to more than 40 climate-vulnerable nations, and garnered the support of more than 100 countries in support to the 1.5C goal. The Philippines is also putting up a South-South Center of Excellence for climate information and services that will benefit the most vulnerable nations to climate change.

The outcome of this week’s meeting and the completed Summary for Policymakers are set to be officially released at a press conference on October 8, 2018.

The final draft of the report contains over 6,000 cited references. Governments provided close to 4,000 comments on the Final Government Draft. Overall the IPCC received 42,000 comments on the drafts of this report. The review is an essential part of the IPCC process which involves more than 130 climate experts.