IPCC Reports: Discussions Are Heating Up


We’ve all heard it: 1.5 degrees is the proposed limit for the maximum increase in global temperature. But what does this limit really mean? The implications of this limit and the preventative actions that it entails are outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Illustration by Cate Johnson

The IPCC is the leading international body for the assessment on climate change. Established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization, the IPCC is made up of 195 countries with elected bureau members and an organization chair. It is split into three working groups, each with a specific focus. The purpose of the IPCC is to review and assess the most up-to-date scientific, technical, and socio-economic information and provide both the public as well as policy makers with accessible and accurate information on climate change. These IPCC reports come out every few years with current information on the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of climate change and  suggestions for risk mitigation.

A special IPCC report was released on Oct. 8, 2018. This report is a response to the Paris Agreement, which was adopted in 2015. More than 220 authors from 40 countries came together to synthesize over 6,000 scientific reports and work with thousands of other expert reviewers. What they found, to put it bluntly, is frightening.

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing consequences of one degree of global warming through more extreme weather, risking sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes” said Panmoao Zhai, Co-Chair of the IPCC Working Group I. The report highlights the important consequences of even a half-degree of warming. Where we are now with one degree of warming — half a degree below the Paris Agreement goal — has already exacted extremely damaging effects on environmental ecosystems and human health and livelihood. To surpass the proposed limit, even by a fraction of a degree, would be devastating. “Every extra bit of warming matters,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. “Especially since warming of 1.5 degrees or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems.” For instance, at 1.5 degrees of global warming, 70 to 90 percent of all coral reefs will be lost.

The speed of warming is more rapid than we thought. We will hit the 1.5-degree target as early as 2030. Furthermore, the impacts of exceeding 1.5 degrees of warming are more far-reaching than we anticipated. Allowing the temperature to overshoot that goal would require a greater reliance on innovative techniques that remove carbon dioxide from the air.

That said, Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III, noted, “Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics.” In fact, there are already a number of projects underway that address the urgency of this issue. These efforts, however, must be accelerated and combined with unprecedented changes in land management, city infrastructure, and energy use.

So, what can you do to decrease your own personal carbon footprint? While walking to class, to work, or to the grocery store may not seem as appealing as driving, walking is a good place to start. Also, educate yourself and vote in favor of environmental protection; support industries that are trying to go green; consume ethically; take advantage of your time at college and learn about environmental policy and engineering. And if these steps seem to burdensome, spend some time reflecting on how the world will be changed when almost all the coral reefs are dead and the glaciers have melted. Be informed, take action, do your part.

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