A giant piece of Ice breaks off the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina
A giant piece of Ice breaks off the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina

World stands on brink of failure: New climate change report

A SPECIAL report on global warming has been released today that provides a grim view on the world's future.

It states that the world stands on the brink of failure when it comes to holding climate change to moderate levels and that there is only a decade to try and cut emissions.

Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries prepared the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and their verdict is that every extra bit of warming makes a difference.

The world has already warmed by about 1C above pre-industrial levels and is likely to reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

The report is groundbreaking in that it looks at the impacts of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to 2C.

The UN panel makes clear that global warming of 1.5C would be a very difficult target to reach and cannot be achieved without carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere.

Carbon emissions would need to be cut by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030. This would allow carbon emissions would have to reach "net zero" by around 2050.

"Limiting warming to 1.5C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes," IPCC Working Group III co-chair Jim Skea said.

Actions taken between now and 2030 will be critical in order to have a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5C.

The United Nations panel released its report at midday that showed the 1.5C target would require "rapid and far-reaching" transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.

Allowing the global temperature to temporarily rise above or 'overshoot' 1.5C would mean a greater reliance on techniques that remove carbon from the air to return global temperature to below 1.5C by 2100. The effectiveness of such techniques are unproven at large scale and some may carry significant risks for sustainable development, the report notes.

At a press conference to launch the report IPCC chair Hoesung Lee said the document was one of the most important ever produced by the organisation.

Mr Lee said climate change was already impacting people around the world and keeping global warming to 1.5C was not impossible but would require unprecedented changes.

Professor Mark Howden of the ANU's Climate Change Institute said the report showed at current rates of temperature increases, the world will likely reach the 1.5C degrees global warming scenario by around 2040.

"At this point, there are very few practical pathways left that can keep warming to below 1.5C (and) very little we can do to turn the ship around," Prof Howden said.

"But one of the key messages from this special report is the longer we leave taking action, the faster we'll have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the more it will cost including through unwanted impacts of climate change."


For the first time, the IPCC Special Report maps compares the risks presented by scenarios of 1.5C warming the with 2C two degree warming scenario, showing extreme weather events, heat-related morbidity and food shortages will be substantially worse if the climate warms by an extra 0.5C.

"It is certainly possible to limit warming to 1.5C degrees, but it will be profoundly challenging and action taken in the next decade few years will be crucial," Prof Howden said.

"There are lots of synergies between reducing emissions, adapting to climate changes and with broader sustainable development"

Professor Howden has just returned from the 48th Session of the IPCC in South Korea, where the report was approved. He the vice-chair of the IPCC and is the most senior Australian climate expert involved in the compilation of the report.

The report was expected to note that coal-powered electricity must be phased out globally by 2050 to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming, including the total destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, according to Fairfax.

"It's like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen. We have to put out the fire," UN Environment Program executive director Erik Solheim said.

The special report began as a request from the 195 nations that inked the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Three years and many drafts later, the answer has come in the form of a 400-page report - grounded in an assessment of 6,000 peer-reviewed studies - that delivers a stark, double-barrelled message: 1.5C is enough to unleash climate mayhem, and the pathways to avoiding an even hotter world require a swift and complete transformation not just of the global economy, but of society too.

With only a single degree Celsius of warming so far, the world has seen a climate-enhanced crescendo of deadly heatwaves, wild fires and floods, along with superstorms swollen by rising seas.

"I don't know how you can possibly read this and find it anything other than wildly alarming," said Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, referring to the draft Summary for Policy Makers.

Government representatives have spent a week going through the 22-page executive summary line-by-line in Incheon, South Korea.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia backed down at the last minute on Saturday from obstructing the adoption of the report.

At issue was a passage in the summary stating that voluntary national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will fail to limit warming to 1.5C.

Current pledges would at best yield a 3C world by century's end, far above the 2C cap mandated by the Paris Agreement.

These so-called "nationally determined contributions" run from 2020 to 2030 for most countries, including Saudi Arabia, and to 2025 for a few others.

The passage goes on to note that capping global warming under 1.5C "can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030".

As a consequence, scientists and climate activists have called on countries to ratchet up their carbon-cutting pledges as soon as possible.

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