UN report on global warming target puts governments on the spot
PARIS, Oct 1, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Diplomats gathering in South Korea Monday
find themselves in the awkward position of vetting and validating a major UN
scientific report that underscores the failure of their governments to take
stronger action on climate.
“This will be one of the most important meetings in IPCC history,” Hoesung
Lee, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told
delegates at the opening plenary in Incheon.
The special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees
Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels began as a request from the 195
nations that inked the Paris Agreement in 2015.
That landmark pact called for capping the rise in global temperature to
“well-below” 2C, and invited countries to submit voluntary national plans for
reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
To the surprise of many — especially scientists, who had based nearly a
decade of research on the assumption that 2C was the politically acceptable
guardrail for a climate-safe world — the treaty also called for a good-faith
effort to cap warming at the lower threshold.
At the same time, countries asked the IPCC to detail what a 1.5C world
would look like, and how hard it might be to prevent a further rise in
“Unfortunately, we are already well on the way to the 1.5C limit, and the
sustained warming trend shows no sign of relenting,” Elena Manaenkova, Deputy
Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization told the plenary.
Three years and many drafts later, the answer has come in the form of a
400-page report — grounded in an assessment of 6,000 peer-reviewed studies –
– that delivers a stark, double-barrelled message: 1.5C is enough to unleash
climate mayhem, and the pathways to avoiding an even hotter world require a
swift and complete transformation not just of the global economy, but of
With only a single degree Celsius of warming so far, the world has seen a
climate-enhanced crescendo of deadly heatwaves, wild fires and floods, along
with superstorms swollen by rising seas.
– Line-by-line vetting –
“I don’t know how you can possibly read this and find it anything other
than wildly alarming,” said Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at
the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based research and advocacy
group, referring to the draft Summary for Policy Makers.
Government representatives — often the same ones in the trenches at UN
climate negotiations — will spend the entire week going through the 22-page
executive summary, line-by-line.
With scientists at their elbow, they will check it against the underlying
report and, if the past is any guide, attempt to blunt conclusions deemed
inconvenient by their governments.
“Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have threatened to be
obstructionist,” said one of the report’s authors.
China is said to have reservations on the chapters outlining policy
options, concerned that some of the measures outlined may be too ambitious.
But the joker in the pack is the United States, several delates and
“This is the first report coming up for approval since the Trump
administration took office,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of
geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, and an IPCC
author on a another report-in-progress.
“That’s a real wild card.”
– US position unclear –
There are few clues as to what the United States might say or do in
Incheon, which has left a lot of people nervous.
“The US could, as they have in the past, support the science,” said one
“Or they could become obstructionist — maybe Fox News will decide to shine
a spotlight on the meeting.”
A State Department spokesperson confirmed to AFP that veteran climate
diplomat Trigg Talley will head the US delegation, a development one veteran
IPCC author described as “reassuring.”
Governments looking for a straightforward answer to the question of whether
the 1.5C target can be reached are likely to be disappointed, said Henri
Waisman, a senior researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Development and
International Relations, and one of the report’s 86 authors.
“The report isn’t going to simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” he told AFP.
“Our goal was to put as much information as possible into the hands of
policy makers so they can step up to their responsibilities.”
Many scientists say the goal is feasible on paper, but would require
political will and economic transformations that are not on the near-term
“In my view, 1.5C stabilisation is extremely difficult if not impossible at
this point, while 2C stabilisation is an uphill challenge but doable,”
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania
State University, told AFP.