It is said the planet is around 1 degrees celsius warmer than 160 years ago. Now although that doesn’t sound like a lot, scientists have advised we need to keep global temperatures from rising by no more than 0.5 of a degree by the end of the century.
Unfortunately, the authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released at the beginning of October, show we are on the path to exceed this 1.5 degrees celsius mark within the next 12 years, so by the end of the century, the planet will have warmed by double that amount.
"One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1 degree C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes," said Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I.
Andrew King, a lecturer in climate science at the University of Melbourne, said in a statement: ”This is concerning because we know there are so many more problems if we exceed 1.5 degrees C global warming, including more heatwaves and hot summers, greater sea level rise, and, for many parts of the world, worse droughts and rainfall extremes.” In addition, King states: "The window on keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C is closing rapidly.”
Essentially, in order to keep to this 1.5 degrees celsius limit by 2100, half of our energy needs to come from renewable sources by 2050, and measures need to be taken to soak up carbon dioxide, including planting millions of trees and implementing machines that remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
The IPCC's models highlight the need for “rapid, fair-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and emphasises the need for people to change their lifestyle and consumption patterns to more sustainable alternatives, specifically in areas they can control, like modes of transportation, the buildings they inhabit and their dietary preferences.
"It's a really new way for the IPCC to report on mitigation pathways, the carbon budgets are so tight for 1.5C that we need drastic action on the policy scale, the business and industry scale, but also on the part of consumers," says World Wildlife Fund's lead climate scientist, Chris Weber.
The report will be presented to governments at the UN climate conference in Poland at the end of 2018, but analysts say there is much work to be done. As well as the need for governments around the world to get on-board and make urgent and dramatic changes to current climate change commitments, as consumers we have to play our part too. This could include making small changes in our every day lives, such as:
- Cutting out beef: switching to pork, cod, chicken or soya beans drastically reduces CO2 emissions. Eating less meat is one of a number of mitigation strategies suggested by the IPCC to overhaul agricultural and land-use practices, including the protection of forests.
- Moving to a smaller home: downsize and make energy savings of 8-27%.
- Don’t drive short distances: walking or cycling would reduce transport emissions by 62%.
- Cut down on heating: save 21-26 % energy by installing intelligent thermostats.
- Share your car: carpooling reduces emissions by 13-18%. The IPCC envisages a future where people travel less, and that generally consumer preferences shift to more sustainable choices like car sharing and hybrid and electric cars.
Johan Rockström, a co-author of the recent Hothouse Earth report, said: “Climate change is occurring earlier and more rapidly than expected. Even at the current level of 1C warming, it is painful. This report is really important. It has a scientific robustness that shows 1.5C is not just a political concession. There is a growing recognition that 2C is dangerous.”
Jiang Kejun of China’s semi-governmental Energy Research Institute added: “I hope this can change the world. Two years ago, even I didn’t believe 1.5C was possible but when I look at the options I have confidence it can be done.”