1.5C global temperature goal to combat climate change a cry in wilderness
United Nations, Dec 10 (IANS) “I am here today to cry out from the rooftop of the world,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres said surveying the impact of climate change in the Everest region in Nepal.
“We must act now … to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, to avert the worst of climate chaos,” Guterres said.
His “cry” in October could as well be a cry in the wilderness as the world is far from reaching that goal, which was set as an aspirational goal, a secondary target to the 2 degrees Celsius agreed at the landmark Paris Climate Summit of 2015.
Now reflecting the consensus of scientists, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that is not enough and the target of limiting temperature increase to 1.5C by the end of this century from the level it was at the turn of the last century is imperative to avert a flaming global catastrophe.
In a warning flare for what the future portends, NASA reported that level was already breached in September at 1.7C, though only for a short period, and not on the sustained basis on which the Paris goal was set leaving open the possibility that there is still hope trend can be slowed through ramped up action.
And, a report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) last month warned, “If current policies are continued, global warming is estimated to be limited to 3C.”
It is evident that the world is far from doing what is needed to reach the 1.5C goal.
Guterres convened what he called a “no-nonsense” Climate Ambition Summit in September where he wanted world leaders to come up with definitive commitments to increase their goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
But none of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases or influential industrialised countries attended it.
Now there is another opportunity at the COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai for increasing the commitments to fighting climate change.
An understanding of the reason why the 1.5C goal seems unreachable starts with the landmark climate change summit in 2015 in France where the Paris Agreement was reached for countries to make pledges, which are known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
A subset of it is the Conditional NDCs from developing countries that would depend on international assistance to meet their goal.
The UNEP document, known as the Emission Gap Report that deals with the shortfalls in meeting targets, said that if the NDCs were implemented, the temperature would still rise to 2.9C, which scientists consider to be far beyond the tipping point to a climate catastrophe.
Even if the conditional NDCs were fully implemented, the temperature hike would still be 2.5C.
And if all net-zero pledges by some countries to neutralise emissions are met it would bring it down only to 2C.
To reach the 1.5C goal – or decisively the 2C target – countries will have to take on more ambitious policies to further cut their emission and therein lies the rub.
And, they will have to be supplemented with vigorous efforts to eliminate CO2 hanging around in the atmosphere.
The UNEP report pointed to the limitations of only relying on eliminating fossil fuel use.
“Robust strategies for limiting a global temperature increase include both immediate and stringent emission reductions and the active removal of CO2 from the atmosphere,” it said.
What it means is that cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to get to the 1.5C goal because of the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from decades of fossil fuel use and other activities that continue to be present for a long time.
In addition, there will be some activities – like agriculture – that will continue produce CO2 even if all fossil fuel consumption ends and these will join the gas lingering in the atmosphere.
To overcome the effect of the gas still in the atmosphere, it will have to be eliminated and the simplest and natural method is the absorption by trees and plants, hence the importance of forests and tree planting.
But they will have to be supplemented by technologies to capture CO2 and turn it into other products that can be safely stored away or put to use in other products – and this could be through turning the gas into solid carbon or compounds.
US Climate Change envoy John Kerry said: “We’ve got to have largely, largely a phaseout of fossil fuels in our energy system by 2050, focusing carbon capture technologies on the hardest-to-abate sectors.”
(Arul Louis can be contacted at email@example.com and followed at @arulouis)