Limiting global warming's temperature rise to 1.5ºC would require "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society", the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a damning new report.
The Nobel Prize-winning organisation said that the world was well off track in its goal of limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5ºC and heading for 2ºC or more.
As part of the Paris Agreement in 2015, its creators included the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels".
The assessment was released after three years of research and a week of tough negotiations between scientists and government officials at a meeting in South Korea.
It also highlighted the environment has already seent he consequences of 1ºC of global warming in the form of more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic Sea ice, among other changes.
Which areas will be worst-affected if warming reaches 2ºC?
Reaching 2°C instead of 1.5°C global warming would lead to substantial warming of extremely hot days in all land regions, according to the report.
It would also lead to an increase in bouts of heavy rainfall in some regions, particularly in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere — potentially including parts of Alaska, Canada, Europe, Russia and Asia — which could raise the risk of flooding.
In addition, some regions, including the Mediterranean, are projected to become drier at 2°C rather than 1.5°C global warming. The impacts of any additional warming could also prompt elevated melting of ice sheets and glaciers, as well as increased sea level rise.
What action can be taken?
While the report had unfavourable findings, it also said that it's not too late to act: “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of one of the IPCC's working groups.
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared with 2°C would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health and well-being, making it easier to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” said Priyardarshi Shukla, co-chair of another IPCC working group.
However, keeping global warming below this level will require "annual average investment needs in the energy system of around $2.4 trillion (around €20.8 trillion)" between 2016 and 2035, according to the report.
The WWF called on the EU to take urgent action to limit global warming to 1.5ºC, saying in a press release: "Approved by 195 governments, the report underscores the small window of opportunity we have to make immediate, deep and transformational changes — without which the world we know will be irreversibly changed."
The report will be a key scientific input into the Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland in December when governments will review the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.