The IPCC 1.5°C Report
There are many opinions to do with climate change — its causes, its effects, how quickly it is happening, and whether it is even happening at all. Therefore, the United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the year 1988 in order to provide world leaders with authoritative guidance. 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.
The Paris Agreement
In the year 2015 leaders from almost all the nations of the world met in Paris, France. Their work resulted in the publication of what is known as the ‘Paris Agreement’, also known as COP 21 (Conference of the Parties Number 21). 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. The timing for the 2°C goal was mid-century, leading to widespread use of the catchy phrase of the phrase ‘Net Zero by 2050’, as discussed in the post A Clunky Sentence.
The authors of the Paris Agreement recognized that urgent action was required, so they asked the IPCC to provide guidance as to what actions would be needed to achieve the 1.5°C target by the year 2020. This report is widely regarded as being authoritative; it provides a foundation for many of the programs that have since been developed by governments and large organizations.
The full report is lengthy, detailed and dense. It does not make for easy reading. However, its message is clear. A temperature increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial baseline will have serious consequences: drought, flooding, high temperatures and increased sea levels. If a temperature increase of 2°C is reached then it is probably fair to say that the consequences will be catastrophic.
The report reaches the following conclusions.
We need to decrease CO2 emissions by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.
This will require massive reductions in the use of coal, oil and gas, as detailed below.
There needs to be an equally massive replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.
Many climate activists 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 . . .
As the above sketch and other articles and posts at this page make clear, (for example, Renewables: Not Fast Enough) in the three years since the publication of the IPCC report, it has been Business as Usual all over the world. The report’s recommendations have, by and large, been ignored. CO2 concentrations and atmospheric temperature continue their inexorable rise.