- What does IPCC stand for and how does it work?
- Why is IPCC now targeting 1.5°C global warming as the acceptable limit?
- 1.5°C doesn’t sound like much of a change. Why would such a small amount of warming have serious consequences?
- What are the benefits of limiting global warming to 1.5°C?
- Are we already getting close to the 1.5°C limit?
- What kinds of ready-to-go actions would limit global warming to 1.5°C?
- What can I do to help limit global warming to 1.5°C?
What does IPCC stand for and how does it work?
IPCC stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is the leading scientific body for assessing the impacts of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Program in 1988 to provide the policymakers with consensus science on climate change.
So, how does it work? Through scientific consensus as the IPCC utilizes thousands of scientists to review and assess the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information to better understand climate change and its impacts on people and the planet. This holistic data collection method allows for a consensus building approach and because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide balanced scientific information to decision makers.
Why is IPCC now targeting 1.5°C global warming as the acceptable limit?
An essential goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been for the international community to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (UNFCCC, 1992). Until recently, the amount of human-induced climate change allowable to meet this goal was ambiguous but generally considered to be a maximum of 2°C global warming. However, discoveries since that agreement have demonstrated significant societal benefits of a limit of 1.5°C, including less sea level rise, less warming of the ocean and less extreme weather events.
1.5°C doesn’t sound like much of a change. Why would such a small amount of warming have serious consequences?
What we call climate refers to the average weather over a long period of time in a given area. Climate means, for example, the average temperature in Utah in spring. If spring in Utah is hotter than it was a generation ago, it’s a sign that the climate is changing. Weather, on the other hand, is what happens day-to-day. A summer snowstorm is unusual weather—a pattern of late-season snowstorms might signal a changing climate.
Consequently, even seemingly small temperature changes on the global scale can cause important impacts, especially because some parts of the world, such as the Arctic, change much more than the global average. For perspective, at the peak of the latest Ice Age around 20,000 years ago, extensive glaciers and ice sheets covered much of the Northern Hemisphere. Yet, the global average temperature was only about 5°C colder than the pre-industrial temperature.
What are the benefits of limiting global warming to 1.5°C?
The lower temperature threshold would mitigate, but not eliminate, numerous adverse societal and ecological impacts. For example, global sea level rise by the end of this century would likely mean that up to 10 million fewer people would be exposed to encroaching ocean water. In addition, up to 30% of coral reefs are expected to survive a 1.5°C global warming, compared with nearly a total decline with a 2°C warming. Furthermore, the reduced warming trend would probably allow over 400 million fewer people to be frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves in the future.
Are we already getting close to the 1.5°C limit?
The earth has already warmed by about 1°C since pre-industrial times, around the year 1850, and most of this temperature rise has occurred since the 1970s. This warming trend has caused visible impacts, in the form of more extreme heat and rainfalls, rising sea level, and a sizable loss of Arctic sea ice. If the current warming trend continues, our climate temperature will reach 1.5°C global warming by around 2040.
What kinds of ready-to-go actions would limit global warming to 1.5°C?
The pledges that countries made in the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce carbon emissions are still not enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The time available to limit warming to 1.5°C has shrunk considerably, such that achieving this goal will require net human-caused carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 to fall to nearly half of their 2010 levels and then drop to zero by 2050. Major reductions are required in all societal sectors (energy, transportation, agriculture, etc.) through “supply-side” actions, such as phasing out coal production, and “demand-side” actions, such as improved energy efficiency.
What can I do to help limit global warming to 1.5°C?
As the IPCC report tells us, it isn’t a great mystery what needs to be done to limit the earth’s temperature from rising another 1.5 degrees. We already have the knowledge, tools, and technology to limit greenhouse gases that cause climate change, but we need cooperative and swift action from everyone.
In fact, some of these actions are listed in the “How You Can Help” section, and many of them are “win-win” solutions featuring co-benefits to humanity and the environment. Specifically, eating less meat and reducing food waste are two of the most effective ways to lower carbon emissions, while simultaneously improving health and saving money. After reading the “How You Can Help” section, go to the Project Drawdown Solutions page, where you will find the most comprehensive and ambitious plan to combat the current and future impacts of climate change. You have an important role to play in our shared future, so stay informed and take action.