5 Lessons from the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C

Small-island developing states (SIDS), and The UWI, scored a much-needed victory when the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C was approved by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Given their vulnerability to climate impacts, Caribbean and other SIDS have long advocated for 1.5°C being recognized as a worthy target to aim for.

Released in 2018, the report was the first of three reports in a series from the UN body assessing scientific, technical, and socio-economic information regarding climate change during its Sixth Assessment cycle. The Caribbean’s push for this global warming target was partly informed by The UWI’s Climate Studies research and modeling. Sparking a global campaign, it called on world leaders to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees to prevent climate change’s catastrophic effects.

Caribbean journalist Soyini Grey interviews Dr. Michael Taylor, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The UWI's Mona Campus. He is also a coordinating lead author of the Special IPCC report.

Widely referred to as ‘1.5 to Stay Alive’, the report produced many insights.

Here are five lessons gained from the report.

Earth could reach 1.5°C by 2030

Earth could reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, if it continues to increase at the current rate.

Approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels have been caused by human activities, according to research.

Future climate-related risks depend on the rate, peak and duration of warming. Some impacts may be long-lasting or irreversible, such as the loss of some ecosystems.

Every half degree counts (1.5°C vs. 2°C)

Professor Michael Taylor, a physicist and Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at the Mona Campus, said: “Now we have the scientific evidence that 1.5°C is the appropriate goal that the world needs to go for (as a target to cap global warming), but also that it is a hard thing to achieve. This report establishes that half a degree matters; that there is a difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees —the higher goal which much of the world thinks should be the target.”

As one of the coordinating, lead authors of the IPCC 1.5 Report, and Head of the Climate Studies Group, Mona Campus (Jamaica), Professor Taylor is intimate with the huge effort that will be required to attain this goal.

Especially for vulnerable regions, the difference in climate change impacts between 1.5°C and 2°C are huge. For example, the slower rate of sea-level rise at global warming of 1.5°C reduces risks, better enables time and opportunities to adapt and manage and restore natural coastal ecosystems and reinforce infrastructure.

However, at 2°C, these regions’ risk of heat extremes, sea-level rise, tropical crop yield reductions, coral reef bleaching, and subtropical water scarcity would increase significantly. And with limited adaptive capacity and high exposure, their ability to protect themselves reduce drastically.

Small developing islands are at the highest risk

Who will be affected most? Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean region. Increased warming amplifies small islands’ exposure with low-lying coastal areas. It also increases risks associated with sea level rise for many human and ecological systems, including increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure. <

Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C.

Ultimately, disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods will bear the biggest brunt. Arctic ecosystems, dryland regions, and Least Developed Countries will also be severely affected.

For these populations, climate impacts are not just environmental. They will also cause poverty and disadvantage. Meeting the 1.5°C target could reduce the number of people exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050. Professor Taylor adds: “Even 1.5°C pose significant risks to the most vulnerable. 

Small islands’ fate is tied to Developed countries’ emissions

Climate change is a global issue. Every region’s actions impacts another. This means that despite mitigation and adaptation measures we implement, our fate still lies in the hands of the developed, Industrialized North and other high emitters, some of which are still classified as developing countries.

The report recommends pathways for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to a level that might achieve a target less than 2°C, even if the more desirable 1.5°C target is elusive.

Professor Nurse continued, “The conclusions are clear—while the application of various mitigation and adaptation technologies will be helpful, there is absolutely no substitute for deep emission cuts at source, particularly in high emitting countries.

Land may offer some solutions

Dr. Adrian Spence of the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences, The UWI Mona, was a lead author on Chapter One “Framing and Context” of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

As explained by Dr. Spence, “Land is a critical resource for human livelihood and development, providing food, fresh water and other ecosystem services. However, land is under growing pressure and climate change is exacerbating this pressure. Notwithstanding that, land may offer some solutions to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, but we must act now.”

With 2030 in near sight, it is clear that the world must take immediate action to implement climate solutions.

Key themes in the 1.5°C Report include

Land as a resource

Desertification and land degradation

Food security

Land and climate change responses.