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TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Oct18/02)
16 October 2018
Third World Network


Contentious issues at IPCC 1.5°C Report approval meeting

Delhi, 15 October (Indrajit Bose and Meena Raman) - Several contentious issues arose prior to the adoption of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) of the ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C’.

The SPM was adopted in Songdo, South Korea, on 6 October, after a hectic week of negotiations. (See related TWN Update: ‘New IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C adopted, while US refuses to endorse findings’).

Among the contentious issues included a long wrangling over how to capture knowledge gaps in the report; how to reflect equity; how to address the carbon budget and historical emissions; whether to refer to the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) of Parties under the Paris Agreement, along with questions about the robustness of findings of studies in relation to the 1.5°C warming.

Although the IPCC reports are supposed to be ‘scientific’ in nature and to be removed from the political negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in fact the meeting in Songdo, in important ways, resembled the political-style talks of the UNFCCC, especially since the report was prepared in response to an invitation by the UNFCCC to the IPCC 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.”

Participants, especially the government delegations, were well aware that the IPCC report will be made use of during the year end negotiations in Poland which will take place at the UNFCCC climate talks.

At the IPCC meeting, when particular paragraphs and related figures came up for discussion and there were several differences, a ‘contact group’ would be established in which interested Parties would try to negotiate and come up with an agreed text.  In other cases, the negotiations would take place in the plenary, even as several huddles continued in parallel. In the contact groups, huddles and plenary sessions, scientists who authored the SPM draft sections were invited to explain the text or figures and to also respond to the questions or criticisms and alternative texts put forward by the government delegates.  The final text would be agreed on by both the delegates and the authors.

The discussions on these issues are summarised below, where the language of the approved SPM has been compared with the 30 Sept. version which was presented was negotiated line by line among the government delegates and the IPCC authors.

Knowledge Gaps

When the meeting began, developing countries called for knowledge gaps to be reflected early on in the SPM.

Saudi Arabia called for a general statement summarizing the state of knowledge and added that it was concerned that the knowledge gaps were not reflected. It also said that there was little information on adaptation and the cost of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C, adding further that the means of implementation and the methodologies for negative emissions had not been addressed properly. It also said that the regional assessments of impacts were missing.

Tanzania, Egypt, Pakistan, India, and China echoed Saudi Arabia in relation to the reflection of knowledge gaps. The European Union (EU) however was not comfortable with a generalized statement at the beginning of a report, which it said was “unusual.”

The compromise reached was the addition of a sentence that read: “In the SPM, knowledge gaps are identified associated with the underlying chapters of the report.” Among the key knowledge gaps captured in the SPM were as follows: “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.

Information about the net impacts of mitigation on sustainable development in 1.5°C pathways is available only for a limited number of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and mitigation options. Only a limited number of studies have assessed the benefits of avoided climate change impacts of 1.5°C pathways for the SDGs, and the co-effects of adaptation for mitigation and the SDGs…

Adaptation finance consistent with global warming of 1.5°C is difficult to quantify and compare with 2°C. Knowledge gaps include insufficient data to calculate specific climate resilience-enhancing investments, from the provision of currently underinvested basic infrastructure. Estimates of the costs of adaptation might be lower at global warming of 1.5°C than for 2°C.”

The fight over equity

Two paragraphs in relation to international cooperation became especially contentious. The corresponding paragraphs, in the 30 Sept. version of the SPM were discussed as a package:

Paragraph D.6.3 read as follows: “International cooperation can support the implementation of 1.5°C-consistent climate responses in developing countries and vulnerable regions, by enabling access to finance and technology and enhancing capacities that can complement domestic resources (high confidence).”

Paragraph D6.4 read as follows: “Collective efforts in the pursuit of limiting global warming to 1.5°C can facilitate strengthening the global response to climate change, achieving sustainable development and eradicating poverty (high confidence).”

A long discussion ensued in a huddle during the plenary regarding the paragraphs above. Central to the disagreement was how to premise international cooperation and collective efforts. Developing countries, led by China, proposed strengthening the paragraphs by providing context to it.

The context, they said was equity, and stressed how critical international cooperation is in terms of support to developing countries to be able to achieve the 1.5°C temperature limit. Besides China, the other developing countries present and active in the huddle included Maldives, Egypt and Pakistan.

The United States (US) pronounced that anything that is not in the underlying report could not be reflected in the SPM and that it would not accept anything that was not “grounded in science” and that there was nothing in the report to suggest that finance and technology is required to reach 1.5°C.

Countries such as Egypt then referred to specific examples in the underlying report and the technical summary to support the proposals by developing countries and to establish that “nothing was being invented”. They said that the terms “principle of equity and fairness” were very much in the underlying report and the technical summary and that it also contained guidance for the collective efforts in the form of equity, international finance and technology transfer.

In spite of the specific references, the US, objected to use of words such as “principle of equity and fairness” and instead proposed that “equity and effectiveness” be used instead, since according to the US, the terms ‘equity’ and ‘fairness’ were the same. In response, developing countries reiterated that the words “principle of equity” were grounded in the report. However, the US in response said it would not agree to formulations that “would be misconstrued” as being espoused by science, especially in the UNFCCC process where Parties might say that IPCC has provided specific references to equity. It said it was happy to debate about the principles “in their proper place,” in an apparent reference to the UNFCCC.

The discussions continued with developing countries stressing that the IPCC only provided policy-relevant information rather than policy prescriptive information and that it was rather surprising that there was an objection to something that was grounded in literature and reflected in the report.

After discussions that lasted over 7 hours, in the final formulation that was agreed upon, the words “principle of equity and fairness” did not figure and what figured was “…taking into account equity as well as effectiveness” but it was made clear that “international cooperation is a critical enabler…”. The approved version of the SPM in this regard reads as follows:

Paragraph D7.3 reads as follows: “International cooperation is a critical enabler for developing countries and vulnerable regions to strengthen their action for the implementation of 1.5°C-consistent climate responses, including through enhancing access to finance and technology and enhancing domestic capacities, taking into account national and local circumstances and needs (high confidence).”

Paragraph D7.4 reads as follows: “Collective efforts at all levels, in ways that reflect different circumstances and capabilities, in the pursuit of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, taking into account equity as well as effectiveness, can facilitate strengthening the global response to climate change, achieving sustainable development and eradicating poverty (high confidence).”

Historical Emissions and Carbon Budget

In some of the paragraphs presented in the initial version of the SPM, according to some veteran observers, it appeared that there was an effort to not reflect the past or historical emissions since the pre-industrial era. This was clearly apparent in the discussions over the significance of the “remaining carbon budget,” especially in the absence of a clear statement of what was the total carbon budget under 1.5°C temperature limit.

Several developing countries echoed the sentiment that there were attempts to squeeze in messages in the report that shifted the focus of emissions from the pre-industrial level to recent decades, and that this was “neither fair” nor “representative” of what the IPCC Panel members were trying to achieve through the special report. There were several instances of this.

One example of this was in relation to paragraph A1.1 of the Sept. 30 version, which read as follows: “Observed global mean surface temperature (GMST) for the decade 2006–2015 was 0.87°C (likely between 0.75° and 0.99°C) higher than in 1850–1900 (very high confidence). Anthropogenic global warming matches the level of observed warming to within ±20% (likely range) and is currently increasing at 0.2°C (likely between 0.1°C and 0.3°C) per decade due to ongoing emissions (high confidence).”

In this text, developing countries expressed the view that it was not clear what had led to the existing warming. Led by Saudi Arabia and India, they said the text should express clearly the accumulation of emissions since the pre-industrial period.

After further deliberations, the paragraph adopted factored in past emissions and the approved version reads as follows: “Reflecting the long-term warming trend since pre-industrial times, observed global mean surface temperature (GMST) for the decade 2006–2015 was 0.87°C (likely between 0.75°C and 0.99°C) higher than the average over the 1850–1900 period (very high confidence). Estimated anthropogenic global warming matches the level of observed warming to within ±20% (likely range). Estimated anthropogenic global warming is currently increasing at 0.2°C (likely between 0.1°C and 0.3°C) per decade due to past and ongoing emissions (high confidence).

Another example was in para A2, which initially read as follows: “Past emissions alone are unlikely to cause global warming of 1.5°C (medium confidence) but will cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts (high confidence).”

Again here, it was felt that the text did not press upon the relationship between past warming and temperature increase.

Developing countries led by India pointed out that the SPM did not have any quantitative mention of past emissions which was odd considering that the context of the Special Report was to assess the feasibility of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C. They also said that the Fifth Assessment Report (AR 5) provided values for the entire carbon budget, past emissions as well as the allowed future emissions with respect to the specified temperature goal. They also said that any discussion on global warming without taking into account past cumulative emissions was not acceptable. Further discussions continued and the paragraph that finally got adopted reads as follows:

“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 (high confidence), but these emissions alone are unlikely to cause global warming of 1.5°C (medium confidence).”

Again, in Section C of the SPM, titled ‘Emission Pathways and System Transitions Consistent with 1.5°C Global Warming’, the discussions on the carbon budget proved difficult (even though the point had been accepted in principle in the discussions over paragraph A2). This was so especially since there were references again to the remaining carbon budget but no reference to the total carbon budget vis-à-vis the 1.5°C temperature limit.

Countries such as India which demanded numbers on the total carbon budget in relation to 1.5°C also stressed that the term budget could not be used only to refer to the future in terms of what is left in terms of the carbon space.

According to sources, in the contact group held on the issue, the authors refused to provide any number on the total carbon budget and the past emissions as a share of the carbon budget. When pressed, the original response from the authors was that “it was not possible.” In the end, after much pressure, the lead author clarified that it was possible to calculate both these numbers (of the total carbon budget and the past emissions), since that they may be available in the 6th Assessment Report of the IPCC (AR6), but they have not provided any such information or supporting material in the chapters. It seemed clear that the focus of the authors was purely on the remaining budget without quantifying the numbers on the entire budget and to erase the role of historical emissions in the process, a developing country panel member told TWN.

In the 30 Sept. version of the SPM, C1.3 read: “Revising estimates from AR5, the remaining carbon budget from the beginning of 2018 for a 50% probability of limiting global warming to 1.5°C defined in terms of the increase in global surface air temperature relative to pre-industrial is 580 GtCO2, and 420 GtCO2 for a 66% probability, subject to large uncertainties. If global warming is defined in terms of GMST, which warms slower than global surface air temperature, these remaining carbon budgets would be 770 and 570 GtCO2 respectively (medium confidence).”

After lengthy deliberations, with the contact group discussing the carbon budget issue (which went on till late into the night and the next morning), the matter got partially resolved with a footnote that read: “There is a clear scientific basis for a total carbon budget consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C. However, neither this total carbon budget nor the fraction of this budget taken up by past emissions were assessed in this report.”

The paragraph concerned in the approved SPM read as follows:
“Limiting global warming requires limiting the total cumulative global anthropogenic emissions of CO2 since the preindustrial period, i.e. staying within a total carbon budget (high confidence). By the end of 2017, anthropogenic CO2 emissions since the preindustrial period are estimated to have reduced the total carbon budget for 1.5°C by approximately 2200 ± 320 GtCO2 (medium confidence). The associated remaining budget is being depleted by current emissions of 42 ± 3 GtCO2 per year (high confidence). The choice of the measure of global temperature affects the estimated remaining carbon budget. Using global mean surface air temperature, as in AR5, gives an estimate of the remaining carbon budget of 580 GtCO2 for a 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5°C, and 420 GtCO2 for a 66% probability (medium confidence). Alternatively, using GMST gives estimates of 770 and 570 GtCO2, for 50% and 66% probabilities, respectively (medium confidence). Uncertainties in the size of these estimated remaining carbon budgets are substantial and depend on several factors. Uncertainties in the climate response to CO2 and non-CO2 emissions contribute ±400 GtCO2 and the level of historic warming contributes ±250 GtCO2 (medium confidence). Potential additional carbon release from future permafrost thawing and methane release from wetlands would reduce budgets by up to 100 GtCO2 over the course of this century and more thereafter (medium confidence). In addition, the level of non-CO2 mitigation in the future could alter the remaining carbon budget by 250 GtCO2 in either direction (medium confidence). There is a clear scientific basis for a total carbon budget consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C. However, neither this total carbon budget nor the fraction of this budget taken up by past emissions were assessed in this report.”

Despite the insistence of even developed countries such as France and Germany, the authors were reluctant to present the remaining carbon budget in terms of the number of years in which it would be exhausted at the current annual rate of emissions, though this could easily be worked out by any educated reader from the information provided in the SPM, a developing country panel member told TWN.

The fight over NDCs

References to NDCs in the SPM became highly contentious, with Saudi Arabia leading the call for the deletion of references to NDCs and the Paris Agreement in the text.

Paragraph D1 of the Sept. text read as follows: “The current NDCs submitted under the Paris Agreement would lead to global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 of 52–58 GtCO2eq yr-1 (medium confidence). This trajectory 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 (high confidence). 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 (high confidence).”

According to Saudi Arabia, consideration of the NDCs were not in the IPCC mandate when it was agreed in the discussions on the scoping outline of the Special Report two years ago that NDCs would not be included. It also pointed out that the IPCC should not be policy prescriptive. However, several other countries were in favour of NDCs being reflected. After long discussions, a different text was approved, but Saudi Arabia expressed its substantial disagreement on the matter. (See related TWN Update).

The approved text reads as follows: “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 (medium confidence). 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 (high confidence). 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 (high confidence).”

Confidence level of studies

Questions were also raised over the confidence levels of some of the findings, especially those that came from a single source study.

In one case in relation to paragraph A1.3, the Sept. the text read as follows: “Changes in temperature extremes and heavy precipitation have been detected in observations for the 1991–2010 period compared with 1960–1979, a time span over which global warming of approximately 0.5°C occurred, suggesting that further detectable changes in extremes may be associated with every additional 0.5°C of warming (medium confidence).”

Questions were asked if the medium confidence could be turned to low confidence because it was the finding of just one study. Some countries wanted scientific findings on drought to be included. Some wanted more robust qualifiers to support such statements. After further deliberation, the paragraph was changed to reflect that only “some climate and weather extremes” have been detected. The approved paragraph reads as follows: “Trends in intensity and frequency of some climate and weather extremes have been detected over time spans during which about 0.5°C of global warming occurred (medium confidence). This assessment is based on several lines of evidence, including attribution studies for changes in extremes since 1950.”

Another instance that relied on one meta study relates to paragraph B 3.1. The Sept. version of the text read as follows: “Of 105,000 species studied, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 2°C, compared with 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates for global warming of 1.5°C (medium confidence). Impacts associated with other biodiversity-related risks such as forest fires, and the spread of invasive species, are also reduced at 1.5°C compared to 2°C of global warming (high confidence).”

Developing countries argued that the attribution of a ‘medium confidence’ level to the result of a single study was unwarranted. According to sources, the authors were insistent on retaining these attributions, insistent that the one paper on which the results were based was a “meta-study” and hence, allowed an interpretation which was also challenged.

“The paper does not appear to be a meta-study in the sense that the term is used in say medical science, where meta-studies combine the results of several independent studies. There is no such situation here,” lamented a developing country delegate to TWN.

In the approved version, only cosmetic changes were made to this paragraph, with a footnote in relation to the first sentence reflecting a ‘medium confidence’ level. The footnote reads “Consistent with earlier studies, illustrative numbers were adopted from one recent meta-study.”

One other case related to paragraph B3.2 which initially read as follows: “Approximately 13% of the global terrestrial land area is projected to undergo a transformation of ecosystems from one type to another at 2ºC of global warming. The area at risk would be approximately halved at 1.5°C (medium confidence).”

In this regard, some developing countries brought to light the fact that the study from which the finding was presented in the SPM had in fact compared the temperature of 2°C and 1°C and the number for 1.5°C had been interpolated and that it was the result of a single study, which did not come out clearly in the paragraph. They urged that a footnote be added to clarify this and also to establish clearly that the finding was not a result of enough number of studies.

The authors, however, clarified that it was a “meta study”, which is a combination of a “number of findings”.

Developed countries were against adding any footnotes and they said that one had to trust the judgement of experts. Developing countries responded saying that the meta study was done between 1°C and 2°C but the reference in the SPM was to 1.5°C and it had to be clarified that it was interpolated.

After further discussions, the approved paragraph read: “Approximately 4% (interquartile range 2–7%) of the global terrestrial land area is projected to undergo a transformation of ecosystems from one type to another at 1ºC of global warming, compared with 13% (interquartile range 8–20%) at 2°C (medium confidence). This indicates that the area at risk is projected to be approximately 50% lower at 1.5°C compared to 2°C (medium confidence).”

In another instance, in the Sept. version of the text as regards paragraph C3.2, a high confidence level was initially attributed. The text read as follows” “Some pathways avoid BECCS deployment completely through demand-side measures and greater reliance on AFOLU related CDR measures (high confidence)…”. (BECCS refers to bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, while AFOLU refers to agriculture, forestry and other land use while CDR refers to carbon dioxide removal).

However, in the approved version, the confidence level changed to ‘medium confidence’ because it was not supported by “statistical analysis” and was the result of only one paper.

In the approved version, the relevant portion of the text reads as follows: “…Some pathways avoid BECCS deployment completely through demand-side measures and greater reliance on AFOLU-related CDR measures (medium confidence)...”

Following the intense wrangling over various issues as above, the SPM was finally adopted after a one-day delay than its original schedule on Oct 6.

 


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