Enviornment Prelims cum Mains

How to reach a 1.5 degree world

The News

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its ‘special report’ on keeping warming to under 1.5°C as compared to pre-industrial times.



  • Ever since the 1990s, when countries started discussing climate change and began negotiating an international arrangement for tackling it together, the objective, both explicit and implicit, has been to limit rising global average temperatures to within 2°C from pre-industrial times.
  • A pre-industrial time was referred to the period between 1850 and 1900, the decades roughly coinciding with the so-called Second Industrial Revolution, when massive advances in manufacturing and production technology were achieved.
  • This objective was chosen because IPCC reports seemed to suggest that the impacts of climate change could be “irreversible” and “catastrophic” if the rise in temperature was allowed to go beyond the 2°C ceiling.
  • However, a number of countries, mainly small island states and the least developed nations, which are likely to suffer the worst consequences of climate change, asked that the goal should be to restrict the temperature rise to even less — to within 1.5°C from pre-industrial times.
  • A 1.5°C target demanded much deeper emission cuts from the big emitters (Developed countries), which in turn required massive deployment of financial and technological resources, something many of these countries were reluctant to do.
  • The Paris Agreement did a balancing act.
  • On one hand it sought to ‘hold’ the increase in global average temperature to “well below” 2°C, it also promised to keep “pursuing efforts” to attain the 1.5°C target.
  • It was during the finalization of the Paris Agreement that countries requested the IPCC to produce the “special report” on the “impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”, and the possible emission pathways that could lead the world to that objective.
  • The report was released at the end of the ongoing weeklong session of the IPCC.
  • Incidentally, the global average temperature has already risen by more than 1°C from pre-industrial times.
  • At the current rate, the 1.5°C limit could be crossed as early as 2040.
  • It will have a major bearing on how the world tackles climate change from here on.


Other reports related to impact of climate change

  • A number of scientific papers in recent times have projected what could be expected in the 1.5°C scenario.
  • The studies have looked at the physical impact on the land and ocean, as well as at the socio-economic impact, like health, malnutrition, food security and employment.
  • Researchers from the University of East Anglia, UK, that limiting global warming to 1.5°C could prevent around 3.3 million cases of dengue every year in Latin America and the Caribbean alone.
  • A World Bank report on Climate Change and Health said that an additional 150 million people could be at risk from malaria if the temperature was allowed to increase beyond 2°C.
  • A study in the journal Climate Change in 2016 claimed that the world could have 25 million fewer undernourished people by the end of the century, if the 1.5°C goal was achieved.
  • A study published in PNAS in March 2017 said about 350 million additional people could be exposed to deadly heat waves if the warming increased to 2°C as compared to 1.5°C.
  • A study in Nature Climate Change in March 2018 said the 1.5°C could prevent 153 million premature deaths due to air pollution by 2100, as compared to the 2°C scenario.
  • More than 90% of the world’s population could see the economic damage as a result of climate change being reduced in the 1.5°C scenario, according to a study in Nature in May this year.
  • This same study claimed that overall, the world could be 3% wealthier by 2100 in a 1.5°C scenario compared to a 2°C scenario.
  • A UNDP report in 2016 claimed that a 1.5°C strategy could create double the number of jobs in the energy sector by 2050.
  • Also, compared to the 1.5°C scenario, extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and heat waves are likely to become more severe and frequent, and freshwater supply could fall sharply, in a 2°C world.


Highlights of the IPCC report

  • The IPCC report deals with the question in detail that what happens at 2°C that does not happen at 1.5°C.
  • The IPCC report suggests possible pathways to attain the 1.5°C objective.
  • The path would involve much sharper and quicker emission cuts by big emitters like China, the US, the European Union and India, than what these countries currently plan to do.
  • Any emission pathway to the 1.5°C target will likely see the global average temperature overshoot that level some time before 2100, before returning to that level by the end of the century.
  • These pathways are also likely to be heavily dependent on the success of yet-to-be-developed carbon removal technologies, about which we are likely to hear more in the coming years.
  • Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, stays in the atmosphere for 100-150 years.
  • That means even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to somehow miraculously stop all of a sudden, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would remain at the current levels for many years to come.
  • That is why there is a significant interest these days in technologies that can physically remove the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and store it somewhere, either temporarily or permanently.
  • No such technology exists yet, but several possibilities are being explored.
  • Each one is fraught with huge risks and uncertainties.


India’s status according Climate change report

  • According to the report, India could face an annual threat of deadly heatwaves, if the world gets warmer by 2 degree Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
  • Global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degree Celsius (above pre-industrial levels) between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the same rate.
  • Being one of the largest carbon-emitting nations, India is expected to be a key player at the event.
  • In the Indian subcontinent, the IPCC report specifically mentions Kolkata and Karachi among cities that could face an increased threat of heat wave.


Way Forward

  • For global warming to be contained at 1.5 degrees C, the net human-caused CO2 emissions would need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero by around 2050.
  • Climate change is also projected to be a “poverty multiplier” through food insecurity, higher food prices, income losses, lost livelihood opportunities, adverse health impacts and population displacements.
  • Limiting global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius as against 2 degree Celsius can reduce the number of people exposed to climate-related risks and poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050.
  • The same limit can result in reduced losses in yields of maize, rice, wheat and other cereal crops, particularly in Asia.
  • For a developing country like India, planning according to the under-1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise scenario is an opportunity since it presents a chance for us to develop a more sustainable energy and agriculture industries as well as manage cities.


About IPCC

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change.
  • The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
  • IPCC assessments provide a scientific basis for governments at all levels to develop climaterelated policies, and they underlie negotiations at the UN Climate Conference – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • The assessments are policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive: they may present projections of future climate change based on different scenarios and the risks that climate change poses and discuss the implications of response options, but they do not tell policymakers what actions to take.
  • The IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision-makers because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature.
  • Participation in the IPCC is open to all member countries of the WMO and United Nations.
  • It currently has 195 members.

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