Authors: Thorfinn Stainforth, Johanna Nyman, Martin Nesbit
The world knew it already, but we now have confirmation from the consensus-building mechanism of the world’s climate scientists.
The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5 Degrees has said that to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term aim of limiting the Earth’s temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, a significant increase in ambition is needed globally. The report outlines possible scenarios to limit global average warming at 1.5 °C and 2 °C. To limit warming to 1.5 °C the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2050 would need to be at net zero. This implies a step-change in the urgency of climate mitigation policy. Although the EU has an aspirational goal of an 80-95% GHG emissions cut for 2050, compared to 1990 levels, currently planned measures and intermediate goals are not in-line even with the low end of this aim. Additionally, the EU would have to over perform if 1.5 degrees were the aim, as developing economies cannot realistically be expected to reduce emissions as quickly.
At the same time, many of the IPCC mitigation pathways rely on a combination of emissions reductions and negative emissions technologies such as BECCS (Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage) to reduce emissions by mid-century. Unfortunately, BECCS has a number of technological, practical and political challenges to overcome before it can be considered seriously as a viable option for large-scale negative emissions. Other immediate options to meet the 1.5 degree goal exist, but they rely on rapid and ambitious emissions reductions and significantly enhancing other natural carbon sinks. This highlights the very serious challenge that reaching net-zero emissions represents: it demands a fundamental change in approach across the economy, and notably a change in thinking regarding agriculture, land use and forestry. Fundamentally, we cannot rely on any one technology or sector to decarbonise, or place too much faith in unproven negative emissions technologies; and we need serious policy reflection now on how to manage the land use and consumption implications of net zero emissions.
Céline Charveriat, Director of IEEP said, “The next European Commission and Parliament must shift their paradigm to truly address sustainability. IEEPs Think 2030 is formulating a set of recommendations and suggestions for the EU to address the challenges we stand in front.”
The new EU strategy for long-term greenhouse gas emissions reductions, currently being prepared by the European Commission, must reflect the message of the IPCC report, and galvanise a rapid ramping up of EU mitigation efforts. (Please find IEEPs contribution to the strategy here.) Short-term action and medium term goals such as the EU 2030 climate targets and Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) need to be revised to ensure that they generate the early action required to deliver the 1.5 degree goal. Failing immediate, global, concrete action, it is clear that the Earth’s temperature will continue to rise to possibly irreversible, increasingly dangerous levels.
IEEP will produce a more detailed analysis of the IPCC report soon.
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