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IPCC Special Report: “The Next Few Years Are Probably The Most Important In Our History.”


Special To Topanga Journal

In 2015, the Paris Agreement set a target of no more than 2°C global warming above pre-industrial temperature levels. A secondary target of no more than 1.5°C global warming was also set as an aspirational goal. Human-induced warming reached approximately 1°C above pre-industrial levels in 2017, increasing at 0.2°C per decade, according to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report released October 8, 2018. This means we’re half way to the catastrophic number of 2°C warming we as a human race have been warned about. The most significant part of the report is we’ve already as a global community reached a dangerous point with just the 1°C warming. We’re already seeing the effects on our global climate from a single degree of global warming pre-industrial levels. 

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is we are already seeing the consequences of 1°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, in the IPCC statement on the Special Report.

“You have an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, and you pout behind your privileged existence by using a $39 jacket to voice your displeasure. What a coward…” Lance Simmens

The authors of the landmark report said, warming greater than the global average has already been experienced in many regions and seasons, with average warming over land higher than over the ocean. Most land regions are experiencing greater warming than the global average, while most ocean regions are warming at a slower rate, say the writers of the IPCC Special Report. Depending on the temperature dataset considered by the Report’s authors, 20-40 percent of the global human population live in regions that, by the decade 2006-2015, had already experienced warming of more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial in at least one season. 

“Temperature rise to date has already resulted in profound alterations to human and natural systems, bringing increases in some types of extreme weather, droughts, floods, sea level rise and biodiversity loss, and causing unprecedented risks to vulnerable persons and populations,” warns the writers of the IPCC report. “The most affected people live in low and middle income countries, some of which have already experienced a decline in food security, linked in turn to rising migration and poverty. Small islands, megacities, coastal regions and high mountain ranges are likewise among the most affected. Worldwide, numerous ecosystems are at risk of severe impacts, particularly warm-water tropical reefs and Arctic ecosystems.”

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Global Climate Change Vital Signs of the Planet, encapsulated in tree rings, ice cores and coral reefs are the global average temperatures over long periods of time. Those tree rings, ice cores and reefs show our temperatures have been very stable over our planet’s life, reports NASA. 

“They also show even the smallest change in temperature showed enormous changes in the environment,” reports NASA. “One such change was at the end of the last Ice Age when the Northeast United States was covered in more than 3,000 feet of ice, average temperatures were only five to nine degrees cooler than today.”

The second dire warning in the report is we have just 12 years left to keep 1.5°C warming from happening and avoiding environmental breakdown. Like dominoes, some things fall in an environmentally interdependent relationship, as in the jellyfish example. When the jellyfish’s predator disappeared due to warming oceans caused by climate change, jellyfish blooms started in those certain areas of the world. Science in the Special Report shows global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing the CO2 from the air, the Special Report warns. 

“Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics, but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III, in the widely released statement from the IPCC on the Special Report.

The kind of changes the report speaks to are sci-fi in nature right now. Some the human community is already working on. Others are blueprint concepts that if these new technologies were brought out of the prototype stage and into working reality they’d be able to put unemployed people to work. Most Star Trek fans remember when the communicators looked like flip phones. They were just a prop and thought to be far-fetched futuristic ideas. Today we have flat touch screen phones far beyond the idea of a flip phone, technology arriving just a few years after the flip phone. It’s not such a huge step to bring some of these CO2 reducing concepts out of the blueprint stage and put them into practice. 

“The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I, in the widely released statement from the IPCC on the Special Report.

Scrubbing carbon out of the atmosphere is one solution among many possible solutions. It works on the principal of a sink, as in carbon sinks and pumps. It absorbs CO2 from the  atmosphere in a process called carbon capture, which is a method capable of removing more than 90 percent of CO2 from the atmosphere around power plants and industrial facilities like cement factories, according to the Center For Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). 

“The report makes clear we need to use all the tools at hand,” said Bob Perciasepe President of C2ES. “Even as we continue pushing as hard as we can on renewables and efficiency, we’ll need to rely heavily on other available and developing technologies, including nuclear and carbon capture, to achieve carbon neutrality. It’s not a competition – we need them all. Only through rapid innovation and deployment can we replicate in transportation and industry the encouraging progress achieved in the power sector.”

According to C2ES, there are almost two dozens commercial scale carbon capture projects operating in the world with 22 more in development. 

Pathways to keep warming below 1.5°C require net annual CO2 emissions to peak and decline to near zero or below, several sections of the IPCC Special Report state. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero would mean keeping cumulative CO2 emissions stable or making concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere fall. Merely stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations would result in continued warming beyond the stated limit. A dire warning in the report states, if starting emission reductions is delayed until temperatures are close to the proposed lower 1.5°C warming limit, pathways to keep warming below 1.5°C necessarily involve much faster rates of net CO2 emission reductions combined with rapid reductions in non-CO2 forcing, which also means the planet reaches the 1.5°C limit much sooner. 

According to the IPCC Special Report authors, “There is no definitive way to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This Special Report identifies two main conceptual pathways to illustrate different interpretations. One stabilizes global temperature at, or just below, 1.5°C. Another sees global temperature temporarily exceed 1.5°C before coming back down. Countries’ pledges to reduce their emissions are currently not in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C.” 

The Special Report pointed out past emissions stating they alone are unlikely to raise global-mean temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, but past emissions do commit to other changes, such as further sea level rise.

The Special Report’s authors warn, “If all anthropogenic emissions, including aerosol-related, were reduced to zero immediately, any further warming beyond the 1°C already experienced would likely be less than 0.5°C over the next two to three decades, and likely less than 0.5°C on a century timescale, due to the opposing effects of different climate processes and drivers. A warming greater than 1.5°C is therefore not geophysically unavoidable: whether it will occur depends on future rates of emission reductions.” 

The authors of the report tell the world “climate adaptation” refers to the actions taken to manage impacts of climate change by reducing vulnerability and exposure to its harmful effects and exploiting any potential benefits. 

A survey released in September by the United States Conference of Mayors and C2ES in San Francisco points to mayors as a key force behind U.S. action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the growing effects of climate change, said Alec Gerlach, C2ES Media contact, in a statement. The survey found 57 percent of cities responding are planning for new climate actions in the coming year. 

“The effects on their cities, public health concerns, and cost savings are making low-carbon transitions an increasingly attractive option for cities – a bright spot for climate leadership despite the U.S. announcement of its intended withdrawal from the Paris Agreement,” said Gerlach.

The Special Report defines adaptation as taking place at international, national and local levels. 

“Subnational jurisdictions and entities, including urban and rural municipalities, are key to developing and reinforcing measures for reducing weather- and climate-related risks. Adaptation implementation faces several barriers including unavailability of up-to-date and locally-relevant information, lack of finance and technology, social values and attitudes, and institutional constraints. Adaptation is more likely to contribute to sustainable development when polices align with mitigation and poverty eradication goals,” according to the Report’s authors.

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, in the IPCC’s statement on the Special Report.

ON THE WEB:

UN SR15 Report Take Action Page


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Kriss Perras owns Ruptured Media where she publishes Topanga Journal. Ruptured Media is also a story development company.


Kriss built the Topanga Journal from the ground up. She earned the magazine digital distribution through iTunes, Amazon and Magzter. She is also a member of the national honor society Who's Who In American Universities And Colleges.

*Photo by Alan Weissman 2017

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