Countries’ greenhouse gas emissions are on track to exceed the 1.5°C long-term target for average global warming that countries adopted in Paris in 2015, according to a leaked draft of an upcoming science report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The second draft of the report, obtained by both Reuters and InsideClimate News, “estimated that humanity could emit just 580 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to give a better than 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C—roughly 12 to 16 years at current rates of emissions,” writes Reuters correspondent Alister Doyle.
“Delayed action or weak near-term policies increase the likelihood of exceeding the 1.5°C target,” the IPCC notes. “The risks to human societies through impacts on health, livelihood, food and water security, human security, and infrastructure are higher with 1.5°C of global warming compared to today, and higher still with 2.0°C global warming compared with 1.5°.”
And if the 1.5°C threshold is breached, “those most at risk will be individuals and communities experiencing multidimensional poverty, persistent vulnerabilities, and various forms of deprivation and disadvantage.”
The draft, which has yet to undergo multiple revisions before it is formally released in October, projects that average temperature increases are on track to reach 1.5°C by the 2040s, Reuters states. “Curbing warming to 1.5C would help limit heat extremes, droughts and floods, more migration of people, and even risks of conflict compared to higher rates of warming,” Doyle writes, citing the IPCC’s draft summary for policy-makers. But “there were no historic precedents for the scale of changes required in energy use, to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies, and in reforms ranging from agriculture to industry to stay below the 1.5°C limit.”
For humanity to hit the 1.5°C target by mid-century, the IPCC said renewable energy must become the dominant form of primary energy supply, and coal must be phased out rapidly. Even then, the report calls for technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“That could mean planting vast forests, which soak up carbon dioxide as they grow, or building power plants that burn wood or other plant matter and then capturing and burying the carbon dioxide they release,” Doyle notes. “But that might not be feasible because forests could divert land from food crops.”
InsideClimate News still calls the report a “landmark work in progress”, pointing to its “careful attention to questions of ethics and justice”. It states that policies must be “guided by concerns for equity and fairness and enhanced support for eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities”, and calls for “interdisciplinary research and reflection” on the “complex ethics questions” raised by a 1.5°C scenario.
Among other scenarios, the report asks how even a 1.5°C will affect human rights for the world’s most vulnerable, “including their rights to water, shelter, food, health and life? How will it affect the rights of the urban and rural poor, Indigenous communities, women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities?”
The IPCC appeared to take umbrage at the news leaks, noting in a release that “draft reports are provided to reviewers as working documents. They are not intended for public distribution, and must not be quoted or cited.” That’s because “the text can change substantially between the Second Order Draft and the final version once the report’s authors have carefully considered every individual government and expert review comment.” As well, scientific papers accepted for publication up to May 15, 2018 might still be taken into account in the final draft.
“Like any work in progress, it is important to respect the authors and give them the time and space to finish writing before making the work public,” the IPCC stated.