TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Oct18/01)
10 October 2018
Third World Network

New IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C adopted, while US refuses to endorse findings

Songdo, 10 October (Indrajit Bose) - Member governments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) adopted the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C’ and approved the underlying assessment report on Saturday, 6 October in Songdo, South Korea at the 48th Session of the IPCC, twenty-two hours behind schedule.

The meeting which was initially scheduled to end on 5 Oct. after it began on 1 Oct, spilled over to the next day, after six demanding days and some very late nights of intense negotiations.

The report on 1.5°C was prepared in response to an invitation by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the IPCC in 2015 to provide a special report “on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related greenhouse gas emission pathways”.

Following the adoption of the report, the United States (US) made a statement at the closing plenary of the session, saying that its acceptance of the report did not imply that the US “endorses” the findings or the contents of the report since there had been no line by line negotiations of the report. In relation to the SPM, the US said that since the underlying content was not subject to agreement, the approval of the SPM should not be understood as “endorsement” of the report’s key findings. It also added that literature that relates to the impacts of 1.5°C was limited, and reminded governments that the US intended to withdraw from the Paris Agreement at the earliest opportunity. Despite its intention to not be a party to the Paris Agreement, the US was very vocal during the negotiations of the SPM, making its objections heard. The SPM was negotiated line by line among governments and authors of the report.

Following the adoption of the SPM, Saudi Arabia expressed its substantial disagreement on the mention of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in the report, which it said was outside of the mandate of the IPCC. Saudi Arabia said that “the IPCC is providing a scientific basis. Any product should be policy neutral, not policy prescriptive.” It added that “the NDC guidance is currently being negotiated under the UNFCCC.” It clarified that “based on this, during the scoping exercise of the 1.5°C Special Report, (which was done in 2016), it was decided not to include NDCs. Despite the agreement, it was included,” lamented Saudi Arabia.

It said further that this sent “the wrong signal” and that “the mandate must be respected,” and added that any section of the report that addresses these references (to NDCs) did not conform to the IPCC mandate and should not be included.  

The SPM consists of four sections: (i) Understanding Global Warming of 1.5°C; (ii) Projected Climate Change, Potential Impacts, and Associated Risks; (iii) Emission Pathways and System Transitions Consistent with 1.5°C Global Warming; and (iv) Strengthening the Global Response in the Context of Sustainable Development and Efforts to Eradicate Poverty.

The SPM highlights that human activities are estimated to have caused about 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels and global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

The SPM also says that “warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts…”

It also says that “Climate-related risks for natural and human systems are higher for global warming of 1.5°C than at present, but lower than at 2°C” and that “climate models project robust differences in regional climate characteristics between present-day and global warming of 1.5°C, and between 1.5°C and 2°C.”

“The differences include rise in mean temperatures, hot extremes, heavy precipitation in some regions and the probability of drought and precipitation deficits in some regions.”

It also says that “temperature extremes on land are projected to warm up more than the global mean surface temperature: extreme hot days in mid-latitudes warm by up to about 3°C at global warming of 1.5°C and about 4°C at 2°C, and extreme cold nights in high latitudes warm by up to about 4.5°C at 1.5°C and about 6°C at 2°C. The number of hot days is projected to increase in most land regions, with highest increases in the tropics”.

It reveals that impacts at 1.5°C, such as on global sea level rise, biodiversity and ecosystems, ocean temperature, and adaptation needs, will be lower compared to 2°C. Similarly, climate-related risks to health livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C, but increase further with 2°C.

The SPM further adds that limiting global warming requires limiting the total cumulative global anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) since the preindustrial period, i.e. staying within a total carbon budget.

Regarding the costs, the SPM says that literature on total mitigation costs of 1.5°C mitigation pathways is limited and was not assessed in this report. The report also states that “knowledge gaps remain in the integrated assessment of the economy wide costs and benefits of mitigation in line with pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C”.

Among the other highlights, called headline statements of the SPM include the following:

·         “In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050. For limiting global warming to below 2°C CO2 emissions are projected to decline by about 20% by 2030 in most pathways and reach net zero around 2075. Non-CO2 emissions in pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C show deep reductions that are similar to those in pathways limiting warming to 2°C.

·         Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems…

·         All pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot project the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) on the order of 100–1000 GtCO2 over the 21st century.

·         Estimates of the global emissions outcome of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions as submitted under the Paris Agreement would lead to global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 of 52–58 GtCO2eq yr-1. Pathways reflecting these ambitions would not limit global warming to 1.5°C, even if supplemented by very challenging increases in the scale and ambition of emissions reductions after 2030. Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030.

·         The avoided climate change impacts on sustainable development, eradication of poverty and reducing inequalities would be greater if global warming were limited to 1.5°C rather than 2°C, if mitigation and adaptation synergies are maximized while trade-offs are minimized.

·         Adaptation options specific to national contexts, if carefully selected together with enabling conditions, will have benefits for sustainable development and poverty reduction with global warming of 1.5°C, although trade-offs are possible

·         Mitigation options consistent with 1.5°C pathways are associated with multiple synergies and trade-offs across the Sustainable Development Goals

·         Limiting the risks from global warming of 1.5°C in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication implies system transitions that can be enabled by an increase of adaptation and mitigation investments, policy instruments, the acceleration of technological innovation and behaviour changes

·         Sustainable development supports, and often enables, the fundamental societal and systems transitions and transformations that help limit global warming to 1.5°C. Such changes facilitate the pursuit of climate-resilient development pathways that achieve ambitious mitigation and adaptation in conjunction with poverty eradication and efforts to reduce inequalities

·         Strengthening the capacities for climate action of national and sub-national authorities, civil society, the private sector, indigenous peoples and local communities can support the implementation of ambitious actions implied by limiting global warming to 1.5°C”.

In the line-by-line negotiations of the SPM, intense exchanges among governments took place and several difficult issues had to be resolved through contact groups and huddles, which took long hours to reach consensus.

In an initial draft presented to member States (dated 4 June), much of the SPM was mitigation-centric and there was very little in terms of adaptation and international cooperation in relation to finance and technology transfer to developing countries.

Member States had initially provided comments to the IPCC on the 4 June version of the SPM and were under the impression that this version of the SPM would be the basis for discussions during the October session, (since no version of the SPM had been issued prior to the session).

However, much to their surprise, a new version was issued late evening on 30 September, incorporating the views of governments on the 4 June version.

When the meeting opened on 1 October, several developing country governments expressed concerns that their preparations and mandates was based on the 4 June version and it was to their disadvantage to begin discussions on the 30 September version. It was eventually decided that the track changes from the 4 June version would be reflected so that member States are in the know of the changes between the 4 June and 30 September versions.

Procedural difficulties aside, several differences on substantive matters arose during the course of the discussions.

Some of the contentious issues included how and whether to reflect knowledge gaps emerging out of the 1.5°C Special Report; the remaining carbon budget vis-a-vis the total carbon budget and how historical emissions are accounted for; international cooperation and the principle of equity; how NDCs are to be reflected in the report; and in some instances, the confidence level of the studies.

Among the governments who often intervened included Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, China, St Kitts and Nevis, Tanzania, US, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway and the European Union.  (Further details to follow in forthcoming articles). 

Edited by Meena Raman.