This year the Cabot Institute Annual Lecture posed a critical question: where are we with current efforts to tackle global climate change? The event brought together over 800 people to hear from leading Cabot Institute experts in climate science, policy, and justice, Dr Jo House, Dr Dann Mitchell, Dr Alix Dietzel and Professor Tony Payne. It was both an appraisal of the findings of the recently published report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and a grounded call to climate action.
Paris commitmentsIn 2015 world leaders adopted the Paris Agreement committing all parties to limiting global average temperatures to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 °C. All countries undertook to achieve global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to enact increasingly ambitious mitigation measures in line with the overarching temperature goals. The Paris Agreement, in contrast to the preceding Kyoto Protocol, is not based on legally binding reductions targets for developed countries, but on a voluntary system of pledges known as ‘nationally determined contributions’ for all parties which will be subject to a stocktake of global progress every five years, beginning in 2023.
Although the Paris Agreement initially offered great promise with pledges being made by both developed and developing countries, a report by the UN Environment Programme in November 2017 examining progress towards the global temperature goals found that even if all current pledges are honoured, we remain on track for some 3 °C of warming by 2100. In light of this, and under the Presidency of Fiji, the first Small Island State to preside over a Conference of the Parties at COP23 last year, the focus has been on building momentum for more urgent action through the facilitative ‘Talanoa dialogue’ and on hashing out the final operating procedures for the Agreement. The findings of the IPCC Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, published on 8 October represent a further important piece of the picture of global progress, which three of the Cabot speakers shed light upon as contributing authors.
Why 0.5°C of warming mattersThe findings of the report are significant in illustrating the projected differences in climate change impacts between the 1.5°C and 2°C temperature thresholds. Dr Dann Mitchell outlined the evidence for increases in regional mean temperatures and for the increasing likelihood of temperature extremes of the kind witnessed during this summer’s European heatwave, which we could see occur almost every year at 2°C of warming. These extremes, together with the projected intensification of storms presented in the report, are closely linked to human risks to health, wellbeing and livelihoods.
|Dr Dann Mitchell|
|Professor Tony Payne|
A call for actionAgainst these stark warnings on the significance of limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C, Dr Jo House outlined some key recommendations for how we can get on track. The IPCC report sets out a number of pathways for action, each calling for changes across a broad spectrum of policy sectors with the aim of rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing the absorption of existing carbon in the atmosphere. These changes include moving away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, greening the transport sector, replanting forests, and investing in carbon capture and storage technologies. Dr House underlined the importance of action at all levels of governance to meet these goals. At the national level in the UK under the provisions of the Climate Change Act we are already committed to an 80% reduction on 1990 levels by 2050, while at the city level in Bristol, the Climate and Energy Security Framework commits to the same target, with a 50% reduction to be achieved by 2025.
|Dr Jo House|
|Dr Alix Dietzel|
This blog was written by Cabot Institute member Alice Venn, a PhD Candidate in Environment, Energy & Resilience at the University of Bristol's Law School.
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