IPCC report: Global temperature increase likely to pass 1.5C sooner than thought

The window in which to deliver the "deep emissions cuts" needed to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis is closing rapidly, thousands of scientists are warning, meaning that our best chance of delivering the Paris Agreement is to reach "at least net-zero" by 2050.

IPCC report: Global temperature increase likely to pass 1.5C sooner than thought

Pictured: A firefighter attending to wildfires in Greece. The IPCC's report outlines how increasing global temperatures and changing weather patterns contribute to extreme weather events.

The warning has been issued in a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group 1 today, delivered ahead of the panel’s full Sixth Assessment Report due this October. Today’s report looks at the physical science of past, present and likely future changes.

According to the report, the global temperature increase from pre-industrial times is likely to breach 1.5C – the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious pathway – by 2040. Temperatures have already risen by around 1.1C over the last century or so.

“Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years,” the IPCC said in a statement. It added: “This report is a reality check”.

Back in 2018, the IPCC published the first scientific report of its scale into the difference in impacts of a 2C pathway and a 1.5C pathway – the two pathways outlined in the Paris Agreement. That report detailed how, under a 2C scenario, the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty would worsen for hundreds of millions of people. In terms of nature, all coral reefs would cease to thrive under a 2C pathway and the pressure on the Arctic would be unprecedented.

Echoing the conclusion of the UN’s most recent ’emissions gap’ report, the new IPCC paper states that the global temperature increase is likely to exceed 3C this century without “deep” cuts to emissions, taking place “immediately”.

It states that net-zero carbon by 2050 should be the minimum target to strive for to deliver a 1.5C world and reiterates the importance of at least halving global emissions this decade as an interim ambition. Moreover, it urges policymakers to look beyond carbon and ensure that other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, like methane, are accounted for and reduced dramatically.

But the report has urged patience as well as urgency. The IPCC has outlined why, even in a scenario in which rapid global decarbonisation takes place, it would take some two or three decades for global temperatures to stabilise. Benefits that are likely to be realised in the shorter term include improvements to air quality, particularly in urban areas.

In a statement, the IPCC said it is hoping for policymakers and negotiators from all nations attending COP26 this November to fully understand the report and embed its implications into their choices. Critically, the report, for the first time, maps precisely how different global warming scenarios would affect different regions, nations and even cities. It also warns that no geographies will be immune to the physical impacts of climate change.

COP26 President Alok Sharma gave an interview to The Guardian and Observer this weekend, confirming that he had read the IPCC’s new materials under embargo and es aware that the climate consequences of weak outcomes from this year’s Conference would be “catastrophic”.

Sharma said: “This is going to be the starkest warning yet that human behaviour is alarmingly accelerating global warming and this is why COP26 has to be the moment we get this right. We can’t afford to wait two years, five years, 10 years – this is the moment…. I don’t think we’re out of time but I think we’re getting dangerously close to when we might be out of time.”

Nonetheless, Sharma failed to condemn plans for the new Cambo oilfield. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) own report on delivering net-zero by 2050 states that all new fossil fuel supply exploration must be halted immediately.

The report comes amid ongoing wildfires in Greece, North America, Turkey and Siberia. Last month, there were devastating floods in mainland Europe, killing at least 184 people in Germany and 42 in Belgium. The IPCC’s report outlines how warming temperatures and changing weather patterns have already heightened the risk of extreme weather events and that this trend is likely to continue for at least another 20 years – longer if the world fails to deliver the emissions reductions needed.

Click here to read edie’s round-up of all the latest reaction to the IPCC report.

Sarah George

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