The IPCC 1.5°C Report
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1 Corinthians 13
When it comes to climate change, there is no shortage of opinions, ranging from belief that civilization is coming to an end in just a few years; others are confident that, “they will think of something” or “it’s all due to sunspots”. There are also many documents, reports, books and web sites that explain climate change — what it is, why it is occurring, and what can be done about it. These documents often do not agree with one another, and many of them are promoting an agenda, hidden or otherwise. To add to the difficulties, many of the people who have strong opinions have not necessarily done the necessary homework to back up their opinions.
It is difficult to know who to believe.
In order to provide world leaders with authoritative guidance, the United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the year 1988. At its web site the IPCC says of itself,
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on the current state of knowledge about climate change.
The IPCC is composed of a large number of scientists who review the latest literature, and then provide guidance as to how quickly the climate is changing, and what the consequences may be. The IPCC does not carry out original work, it simply reports on the work of others.
Many environmentalists consider the IPCC report to be too conservative, i.e., too cautious. In particular, they believe that the organization underestimates the speed with which the climate is changing. They base this claim on the fact that government reports generally tend to be restrained, that national governments (including those from oil states) can object to what is written, that most scientists want to be cautious — it is not in their nature to make waves or to stick their neck out, and that the research that the reports are based on is out of date because the climate is changing more rapidly than anticipated.
This international institution has done useful work but has a track record of significantly underestimating the pace of change, which has been more accurately predicted over past decades by eminent climate scientists
Indeed, the criticism that the IPCC report is too conservative is being confirmed by events. For example, the 1.5 °C report discussed below report says,
If the current warming rate continues, the world would reach human-induced global warming of 1.5°C around 2040.
We are already approaching the 1.5 °C threshold. If present trends continue, then we will have reached that point long before the year 2040.
Ironically criticisms such as these add to the credibility of the organization’s findings — those who accept its conclusions can hardly be referred to as alarmist.
The Paris Agreement
In the year 2015 leaders from almost all the nations of the world published the Paris Agreement. They committed to a goal of keeping the increases in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels; and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 °C.
In response to the 1.5 °C target the IPCC published the report Global Warming of 1.5°C (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018) three years later. This report is quoted at many places in this book and is used as the basis for the calculations and analyses presented here. It also provides the basis for many of the “Net Zero by 2050” goals that have been adopted by a wide variety of nations and organizations.
The full report is lengthy, detailed and dense. It does not make for easy reading. But its summary is clear enough — as can be seen in the following quotation.
This is strong language for a sedate, cautious international government body. Reports such as this rarely use emotive words such as “extreme”, “mass extinctions” and “disastrous”.
Furthermore, the report calls for action in the strongest terms.
Limiting temperature increase requires unprecedented changes in society, but will have huge benefits. Every half a degree of warming matters.
Limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels would require unprecedented rates of transformation in many areas, including in the energy and industrial sectors . . .
The following are some of the principal findings and conclusions of the report.
If we do not take radical action, global atmospheric temperatures will exceed the 1.5 °C over the pre-industrial baseline by the year 2030. (1.5 °C may not sound like much. However, if a person’s body temperature goes up by that amount we would conclude that they have a fever.)
We are not taking radical action.
Realistically, therefore, we have to acknowledge that we will not meet the 1.5 °C IPCC target by the year 2030. We need another goal that gives us a little more time. The extended goal has become, ‘Net Zero by 2050’.
If temperatures are allowed to go above the new threshold of 2 °C the consequences will be very serious. (Using the body temperature analogy once more, a 2 °C increase in body temperature is a sign of serious illness.)