Social upheaval needed to prevent climate chaos

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“All aspects of society” must change in “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented” ways to head off the worst-case scenarios of man-made global warning, an international team of top scientists warned today.

That’s the scale of change that would be needed to limit man-made global warming to just 1.5ºC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a statement accompanying the publication of a landmark new report.

Human activities have already caused average global temperatures to rise by 1ºC – two thirds of the amount that the scientists said is the maximum we should aim to allow. At present our activities are causing temperatures to rise on average 0.2ºC per decade, they said.

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of one of the IPCC’s working groups.

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, another IPCC Co-Chair.

Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is possible, but only provided that we take unprecedented action without delay, the scientists said.

For example, investments in clean energy technologies and energy efficiency would need to be roughly doubled in the next 20 years, they suggested.

“The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a third Co-Chair.

Government across the world came together in Paris in 2015 to agree actions needed by 2030 to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. However, the IPCC has now warned that these won’t be enough even if “very challenging increases in the scale and ambition” of activities are made after 2030.

And even that insufficient Paris agreement is under threat, with US president Donald Trump and some other global politicians who have come to power or prominence since 2015 saying they intend to renege on their countries’ commitments.

Governments are meeting again in December in Katowice, Poland, to assess progress towards the Paris goals. The European Commission’s climate and research leaders, Miguel Arias Cañete and Carlos Moedas, said in a statement that they would take the opportunity to call on global leaders to “raise the collective ambition”.

“The report shows that 1.5°C is doable, provided we act now and use every tool at our disposal,” they said. “As there is no planet B, saving our planet Earth should be our number one mission.”

Elsewhere, the Guardian published advice for what ordinary people can do to help reduce their own contribution to climate change.

Words: Craig Nicholson

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