BIPP Insights

BIPP student intern Harry Morris ’20 considers how a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should steer our conversation on U.S. policy on global warming going forward.

The Consequences of the New Report on Global Warming

Back in December of 2015, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Paris, France. The main goal and achievement of the event was the construction of the Paris Agreement, a consensus adopted by over 190 countries worldwide that said each country must determine a plan of actions in order to start limiting greenhouse gas emissions and other actions to mitigate global warming.

Despite the fact the agreement was unenforceable and was agreed upon on a non-partisan basis, President Donald Trump announced in 2017 his intentions on backing out of the Paris Agreement nevertheless. More importantly, at the 2015 UNCCC, a special report was called for that would layout the adverse effects of climate change and help governments understand actions that can prevent it. In comparison, the United States ignoring the Paris Agreement now looks more disastrous after this special report on global warming of 1.5 ºC has now been released.

The report was published on October 8th, 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Ninety-one authors contributed to the report, which also included 6,000 scientific references. It is comprehensive in scope and scale and allows little room for interpretation. The message is clear, the global community needs to take immediate and aggressive action in order to lower the expected climate change from 2 ºC to 1.5 ºC. The amount of harm prevention we can prevent from our planet’s environment and human societies by limiting global climate change is massive. The Paris Agreement took the step of getting countries to agree to limiting temperature rises past 2 ºC, but this report details how that will not be enough from stopping sea levels from rising dramatically and the extinction of some environments as we know them.

According to the report, the difference between 1.5 ºC and 2 ºC is shocking. The IPCC detail that staying around 1.5 ºC would lead to a 0.1 less meter rise in sea levels may sound small, but would help 10 million people from being exposed to the risks of flooding and infrastructure damage. At 1.5 ºC, seventy to ninety percent of our coral reefs would be lost, as supposed to more than ninety-nine percent of them at 2 ºC. The Arctic Ocean would be ice free only once per century under 1.5 ºC compared to once per decade at 2 ºC. Not to mention a decrease in droughts, forest fires, environmental loss for birds and insects, floods, disastrous weather events and more. Essentially, the report says that the earth will be much healthier if we can ensure the global temperatures do not rise past 1.5 ºC.

Scientists and environmental economists have looked at multiple ways in which countries and governments can try to limit and reverse their effects on the temperature rises and are detailed in the report. There is the ever-proposed carbon budget that would set an enforceable punishment on carbon emissions for corporations and governments, combining economic deterrent with environmental practices. There is also the developing technology that can remove carbon from the atmosphere, but it is not commercially viable yet and would not develop in time to truly counteract the carbon we are putting into the atmosphere.

The response to the report has been positive throughout the global community, with the exception again of President Trump. Most Western countries have embraced the report’s findings or at least accepted that they were not on track to meeting the requirements. Even with negative responses from Australia’s Energy Minister, only the United States has questioned the validity of the findings. President Trump insinuated that the report was made with political motives, and that the authors had to be checked for their credibility.

America is already far behind the environmental actions it needs to be at. The Netherlands for instance has planned to ban the sale of petrol and diesel fueled cars by 2030, and their electric trains are purely powered by wind energy. In comparison, the only environmental action our government has made since Donald Trump’s election is to announce our nonsensical intentions on leaving an unenforceable agreement.

The world has read the report and recognized action needs to be taken in order to save our environment and help human communities all over the planet. America has to try and regain its spot as a global leader again. This new report helps put into perspective how far behind we are already.

Sources of Information:

Gramling, Carolyn. “Limiting Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees versus 2 Has Big Benefits, the IPCC Says.” Science News, 17 Oct. 2018, www.sciencenews.org/article/global-warming-limit-degrees-ipcc-climate-change.

“Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC Approved by Governments.” IPCC, 2018, www.ipcc.ch/pdf/session48/pr_181008_P48_spm_en.pdf.

*The Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) is a nonpartisan institute. Guest writers’ views on public policy are not endorsed by the Institute.

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