Rupert Stuart-Smith, Oxford Climate Society President 2017/18
Since the fairly disastrous 2009 UN climate conference in Copenhagen (COP15), the slogan of many of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change has been “1.5 to stay alive”. Six years later, the Paris Agreement (and all its signatories) implicitly acknowledged the inadequacy of the 2°C goal agreed in 2009, and recognised that limiting climate change to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels ‘would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’. Yet with the global policymaking focus of the past few years firmly centred on limiting climate change to 2°C, relatively few efforts have been made to understand the future emissions permissible if we are to stay within 1.5°C.
In fact, the answer to the question of our ‘carbon budget’ for 1.5°C is perhaps more dependent on what story you want to tell than the predictive abilities of climate modellers. Depending on what baseline of ‘pre-industrial’ temperatures is used, it is possible to come up with very different (but equally scientifically accurate) estimates of the extent of past manmade climate change.
Millar et al. (2017) use a baseline of average global temperatures from 1861-1880 (equivalent to that used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and calculate that global temperatures have risen 0.93°C from the baseline to the present decade (when the influence of short-term variability from El Niño is excluded). Based on their projections, only a further 200 Gigatonnes of carbon can be added to the atmosphere between now and 2055, and by that point we must have reduced our net carbon emissions (the balance of release into the atmosphere and removal from it) to zero, if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting climate change to 1.5°C. To put this into context, current annual net CO2 emissions are approximately 10.4 GtC, leaving less than 20 years of emissions at current rates to exceed the 1.5°C carbon budget identified by this paper.
Figure 1: Idealised mitigation trajectory for limiting climate change to 1.5°C. Dashed line shows a peaking of global emissions in 2020, followed by linear decline to net zero in 2055. Thin solid orange line is the climate response to the emissions scenario in 66% of CMIP5 models, showing a warming of under 1.5°C. Thick solid line shows the 50th percentile of the climate response to this scenario. Source: https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-why-the-one-point-five-warming-limit-is-not-yet-a-geophysical-impossibility.
Based on Millar et al., to stay within the 1.5°C budget, unwavering commitment to rapid global decarbonisation is required, and emission reductions of 4-6% per year will be needed in the 2030s and 2040s. This rate of CO2 emission reductions is historically unprecedented and requires worldwide replacement of existing capital. This will include a revolution in our energy systems through the development and massive deployment of renewables, and an as-yet undemonstrated scale of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and CO2 Removal (CDR), for instance through Bioenergy with CCS (BECCS). The rate at which this transition can happen is limited due to the lifespans of existing infrastructure and the inertia of our economic system, and Millar et al. advocate for immediate and ambitious emission reductions to have any chance of keeping up with the precipitous fall in emissions demanded by their 1.5°C scenarios.
At the same time, the key message of Millar et al. is that the 1.5°C temperature goal is not impossibly ambitious, even though current national pledges require dramatic strengthening. With current national commitments falling far short of global ambition on climate change mitigation, technologically and economically feasible scenarios such as those this paper propose can provide a strong framing for the global stocktake process to increase national level climate commitments.
Alternative estimates of the future emissions compatible with limiting climate change to 1.5°C, using different measures of global temperature and baseline periods (such as 1750, since when global temperatures have risen more than they have since the mid-nineteenth century), indicate far smaller emission budgets. Under some estimates, cumulative emissions committing us to 1.5°C will be reached as soon as 2021.
The question is: is the bigger the panic the better? Does presenting climate change mitigation in line with the 1.5°C goal as being an unsurmountable challenge propel individuals, companies and world leaders into action? Or rather, in line with Miller et al., are we more likely to be able to inspire the behavioural, economic and policy revolutions required if science explains that we have a chance to avoid the vast human suffering brought about by inadequate climate change mitigation and warming of over 1.5°C, but only if we act now?
Join Professor Myles Allen, a co-author of the Millar et al. paper, the Oxford Climate Society, Oxford Martin School and Environmental Change Institute in a discussion on the findings of the paper and these questions on Sunday at COP23, in an event chaired by Kya Raina Lal.
Full details: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/event/2514
According to the UN website, “women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty, and the majority of the world’s poor are women.” The gender imbalance of decision making bodies and labour markets, which are largely male-dominated, often mean women are unable to contribute equally to climate-related policy making and implementing action against climate change. These beliefs, however, are not reflected in the gender balance of COP23 attendees.
Despite the progressive nature in relation to many of the events and discussions taking place at COP23, the gender imbalance at COP23 is striking. At COP21 in 2015, women compromised only 38% of participating delegates. These numbers have not changed in the last two years, with 62% male to 38% female party delegations attending COP23. Three countries or parties sent all-female delegates - Latvia, Albania and Guyana - although nine sent all-male delegates, notably including North Korea, Libya and Somalia. The UK was unusual in choosing to send twice as many female delegates as male.
The side event ‘Guaranteeing Rights and Gender Equality in all Climate Action’, which took place on 7th November, aimed to highlight opportunities for advancing human rights, gender equality and food security through national climate policies as well as the Paris Agreement implementation guidelines. Climate Change and Resilience Information Centre CARE chaired the discussion.
Lydia Essuah, a representative from Ghana, spoke about Ghana’s governmental frameworks instituted to guarantee human rights and promote gender equality in climate action. One such example was the Adaption Fund Project, which aims to empower women through providing access to financial support and livelihood interventions. In addition to this, The Sustainable Land and Water Project helps farmers vulnerable to climatic variability, such as drought, by funding new farming techniques and training forest fringe communities on wildfire. This in turn provides the local community with food and land security in an environmentally sustainable way, targeting the most fragile ecosystems in Africa. Over 9000 land users have adopted the new practices, resulting in progress benefiting almost 25,000 people, of which 40% are women. Implementation of this at a national level will, Essuah claimed, “advance the cause of the ordinary woman.”
Noelene Nabulivou, representative from Diverse Voices and Action for Equality, on the other hand, argued that not enough action is being taken to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality on issues of gender and climate change. Failure to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C and address further loss and damage, Nabulivou claimed, will endanger frontline and vulnerable communities such as the Pacific small island states, where the complex geopolitical context – here she highlighted the epidemic levels of violence against women and girls in these communities - plays a crucial role in hindering climate action.
Bridget Burns of Women’s Environment and Development Organisation advocated for more gender-divided data and analysis on the impacts of climate change, as well as demanding gender balance in the UNFCCC. She also highlighted the need for finance for the UN Gender Action Plan, which is unlikely to achieve its aims without an increase in funding. She reported that progress on making gender a focus in UNFCCC processes is underway.
Gender Day at COP23 will take place on 14th November, where attendees hope to highlight how gender-responsive climate policy and action will be able to generate economic benefits and raise ambition for our aims in climate action, in addition to transforming the lives of women and girls internationally.
Fredrik Eriksson and Lucy Fellingham
An important part of the COP meetings are the demonstrations and “actions” put on by civil society groups, including environmental groups, youth groups, and social justice groups. While major demonstrations are planned in Bonn over the two conference weeks, there are also several smaller demonstrations happening most days inside (or just outside) the venue where negotiations are taking place, in direct view of the national delegates attending the talks.
Today, a coalition of climate justice groups put on a demonstration just outside the negotiation venue in Bonn highlighting the need for increased climate ambitions in the next 2 years. According to Lise, participant in the demonstration and member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, there is a lack of ambitious targets to reduce emissions in the next two years. Lise described how the Paris agreement NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), including the pledged emissions reductions, will not take effect until 2020, and how the emissions targets leading up to 2020, agreed to in Doha, were left unratified by many countries, leaving the 2018-2020 time frame without solid targets for emissions reductions. “We can already see impacts on the climate,” she said, “and while we still need to step up the ambitions under the Paris agreement, as those commitments fall short [of protecting the climate], we also want to see countries take action before 2020.”
As of the end of October 2017, 84 Parties have ratified the Doha Amendment (an extension of the Kyoto Protocol), but the targets to reduce emissions will not be put into force until the number of Parties reaches 144. The ratification of this agreement would be valuable in pushing forwards momentum for global climate action in the years leading up to 2020, but the emissions targets for the next few years remain unclear.
The protestors aren’t the only ones to have expressed concerns about what needs to happen before the Paris Agreement. At the time of the Agreement, climate scientist Kevin Anderson stated “If we wait until 2020, it will be too late”, while the New Scientist came to the conclusion that the agreement itself will not be enough to limit the warming to just 2ºC. The IPCC’s projected trajectory for the emissions of carbon dioxide (pictured below) show an increase that will lead to a “near-complete” destruction of the Greenland ice-sheet, with 70% of worldwide coastlines projected to experience a sea-level change.
In addition, a large amount climate change that will occur as a direct consequence of our CO₂ emissions is irreversible on a millennial timescale. Unless we physically remove the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, surface temperatures will remain high and warming of the oceans, bringing a rise in sea level, will continue. It is clear that we must make use of the years we have before 2020 to do everything we can to reduce emissions and that the policy makers need to be aware of the urgency with which this needs to happen.
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