Professor Andy Kerr is founding Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), co-Director of ClimateXChange, established by the Scottish Government to support delivery of their world-leading climate and energy targets, and Professor of Low Carbon and Climate Innovation at the University of Edinburgh. Here he blogs on the IPCC's latest report, published on 8 October 2018, on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, infrastructure (transport and buildings) and industrial systems…unprecedented in terms of scale…”. That’s one of the key findings of a landmark report published this week by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The landmark report assesses the likely impacts of global warming of 1.5°and 2°C above the pre-industrial era. It considers what pathways society can take to meet the 1.5°C target and the extent to which we are on track with existing commitments.
Its findings are perhaps not surprising. It sets out, in stark detail, the effects that increases of 1.5ᵒC or 2ᵒC are likely to have on people, wildlife, ecosystems and economies over the coming decades. The more global temperatures rise above today’s temperatures towards 1.5°C and 2°C, the greater the likelihood of extreme weather events and systemic environmental change posing risks to our health, wealth and livelihoods.
Populations at high risk of adverse impacts with 1.5°C warming include vulnerable and disadvantaged people, some indigenous peoples and local communities dependent on agriculture or coastal livelihoods. And if temperatures increase by 2 rather than 1.5°C the report finds, for example, that several hundred million more people will be exposed to climate risks. Projections of the impacts on unique and threatened ecological systems suggest precipitous decline: for example, 70-90% of the world’s warm water coral reefs will be lost with 1.5ᵒC of warming, and completely lost under a 2ᵒC warming.
At the heart of the report is the identification of greenhouse gas emission pathways that are necessary for global society to reduce the most adverse climate risks and to adapt to the changing climate. To meet the 1.5°C target without overshooting (i.e. without ending up with higher temperatures and then reducing them later in the century), carbon dioxide emissions need to be reaching net zero by about 2050, and rapid reductions need to start now. If we accept the risk of overshooting, then rapid reductions in emissions need to have started by 2030, but we then rely on heroic assumptions about the use of technical solutions (such as aggressive carbon dioxide removal using carbon capture and storage technologies) later in the century.
So what does this all mean in practice? Globally, we need to see far-reaching transformations in energy production and use, in buildings and transport infrastructure, and in land use.
Perhaps a more useful question from this report is to ask what Scotland can do to support global efforts to meet this target. There are two possible actions.
The first is to lead by example. Scotland can demonstrate that it is possible for a country with an advanced economy to make rapid, systemic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, whilst continuing to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive economy. Indeed, Scotland is widely lauded for achieving 70% of its electricity generation from renewables and for making substantial emission reductions to date – a drop of nearly 50% compared with 1990 levels – all whilst continuing to generate positive social and economic outcomes.
In the short term, this means delivering policies already announced by the Scottish Government to meet the emission reduction targets set through to 2032. These include ending the need for petrol and diesel cars and vans, transforming the energy efficiency of our building stock and increasing the use of low carbon heat as well as dramatically increasing the number of trees planted and improving agricultural practices.
The Scottish Government has proposed new climate legislation which will make Scotland’s long term target (to 2050) more challenging - a 90% greenhouse gas emission reduction rather than an 80% target. While there will be much debate about this long term ambition, whether it is aggressive enough and the political signals it sends, the more urgent issue is ensuring that Scotland delivers the transformative changes needed in the next 5-10 years.
The second way in which Scotland can support global efforts is as a knowledge exporter. Scotland can develop the know-how – the new knowledge, products and services – which countries around the world need to help them deliver similar rapid emission reductions. Scotland has produced some of the transformative thinkers and innovators of modern history. We need to do so again.
This emphasises the value of Scotland’s entrepreneurial CanDo initiatives. And the work we do at ECCIwith our European Climate-KICpartners to enable systemic innovation from early stage business ideas to public policy, public authoritiesand city-region innovation and practice. For example, Edinburgh is hosting the global finals of the world’s largest green business ideas competition - ClimateLaunchPad- next month. And we are working with the City of Edinburgh to support plans for transforming the City Centreover the next few years.
This IPCC 1.5°C report is a clarion call for change to reduce the risks of the increasingly adverse effects of unmanaged climate change. But it also offers a view of a route-map for cities, states and regions to transform to become more climate resilient and to support wider sustainable development goals for society, the economy and the environment. Scotland is well placed to lead this transformation.
Want to find out more about ECCI's public policy work on climate change mitigation and adaptation?