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When we hear about global temperatures rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius, it’s easy to dismiss it as insignificant. After all, what’s a degree and a half in everyday life? It may mean the difference between wearing a light jacket or not. However, in the context of our planet’s climate, a 1.5-degree shift is far from trivial; it’s a seismic change with far-reaching consequences. Here is what the IPCC says.

Wait a second, what is the IPCC?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the premier global organization for assessing the science related to climate change. Formed in 1988 by two United Nations organizations – the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – the IPCC was established to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications, and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation strategies.

The IPCC produces comprehensive Assessment Reports every six years, with the first published in 1990. It also publishes Special Reports on specific topics. Notably, it doesn’t conduct new research but synthesizes and assesses the latest scientific, technical, and socio-economic information produced worldwide.

The IPCC comprises thousands of scientists and experts worldwide, voluntarily contributing their time and expertise. It operates under the leadership of an elected Bureau, including the Chair and Vice-Chairs, with the current Chair (as of 2021) being Hoesung Lee from South Korea. The IPCC’s work is also supported by the Technical Support Units, which are hosted and funded by the government of the Chair and other countries.

The IPCC’s mission is crucial in addressing climate change, providing decision-makers with rigorous and balanced scientific information. Its reports have been instrumental in informing international climate treaties, notably the Paris Agreement. The work of the IPCC, involving hundreds of scientists globally, was recognized with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

The Working Group I contribution was released on 9 August 2021. The Working Group II and III contributions were released on 28 February and 4 April 2022 respectively. The Synthesis Report was released on 20 March 2023. You can read the report here:

Photo by Eduardo Gutiérrez

What does the IPCC say?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has underscored the significance of this seemingly modest increase in its landmark Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. This report represents the consensus of the world’s leading climate scientists and offers a sobering forecast of the future if global temperatures continue to rise.

The IPCC report posits that if the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions persists, we’re likely to witness a temperature rise of 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052. Understanding that this change refers to the average global temperature is crucial. While a 1.5-degree increase might seem minute, the reality is that it represents a fundamental and dramatic shift in our global climate system.

So, what exactly does a world that’s 1.5 degrees warmer look like? A key takeaway from the IPCC report is that the impacts of climate change are not merely environmental; they are profoundly socio-economic and geopolitical.

In concrete terms, a 1.5°C increase in global temperatures translates to more frequent and severe weather events. Picture heatwaves becoming the norm rather than the exception, leading to increased drought and wildfires. Rising sea levels due to melting polar ice caps could lead to the inundation of coastal communities, displacing millions of people worldwide.

Furthermore, warmer global temperatures could disrupt delicate ecosystems and biodiversity. Coral reefs, already under threat, could see a dramatic decline with 70-90% loss at 1.5°C, with near total loss at 2°C. In the Arctic, where warming occurs at twice the global rate, the summer sea ice is expected to disappear completely in one out of every four years at 1.5°C, increasing to once every ten years at 2°C. These changes threaten the species that live in these ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them.

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel

Despite this bleak forecast, the story is far from over. The global community has the power to alter this trajectory. The IPCC report also points towards the enormous benefits of limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C or more – fewer heat extremes, less sea level rise, and reduced impacts on biodiversity are among the significant advantages.

Everyone, from governments and businesses to individuals, has a part in limiting global warming. We must adopt sustainable practices, transition to renewable energy, reduce waste, and support green policies. Each choice we make can contribute to a global solution.

In conclusion, while the threat of a 1.5-degree increase is severe, it is not a cause for despair but a call to action. It’s a reminder that our future isn’t predestined, and we each hold a piece of the puzzle. So, let’s rise to the challenge and prove that humanity can unite for the common good when faced with adversity. Together, we can make a world of difference.

José Amorim
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