In early October 2018 the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report, Global Warming of 1.5°C, warning the international community has 12 years to take action that will keep global warming at, or under, 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The time frame and call-to-action for protecting the earth is significant because according to the report if that goal isn’t met by 2040 the consequences could be severe including increasing wildfires and food shortages as well as a massive die-off of coral reefs.

With more than 6,000 scientific references cited and the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide, this important report testifies to the breadth and policy relevance of the IPCC, said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, which President Trump announced in June 2018 the U.S. was withdrawing from, outlined an international pledge to keep the global rise in temperature between 1.5° and 2 degrees Celsius. The new UN report underscores that taking measures that keep that increase at the lower end will have an impact.

A rise of 2°C would result in a 10 cm higher rise in global sea level compared to a 1.5°C, increase in global warming, the higher figure would result in an Arctic Ocean devoid of sea ice in the summer at least once per decade compared to once per century at the lower number, and while coral reefs would decline by a worrying 70 to 90 percent at 1.5°C, the extra half-degree would wipe out over 99 percent of coral reefs essentially eliminating them from the earth.

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.

The challenge in keeping global warming to a 1.5°C increases meeting the goal isn’t easy or inexpensive. The global economy would need transforming with changes including heavy taxes on carbon emissions. Those taxes could be as costly as $27,000 per ton by 2100, and the total cost of transforming the global economy would be $54 trillion according to the report.


The political challenge

Beyond the cost of reducing the impact of global warming, the larger challenge might be political. Governments around the world, including the U.S., must seriously address the issue.

The response to the UN climate change report by the EPA was non-comital:

“We appreciate the hard work of the scientists and experts, many from the United States, who developed this report under considerable time pressure. In accordance with IPCC procedures, the report and its contents remain the responsibility of its authors. Governments do not formally endorse specific findings presented by the authors,”said EPA spokesman John Konkus in a statement provided to a number of media outlets.

The statement included pointing out the U.S. continues to lead the world in GHG reductions having reduced our emissions by 14 percent since 2005. One thing left out of the EPA’s response is the current administration is taking active measures to undo regulations that created that 14 percent drop over the last 13 years.

The moves include: rolling back clean vehicle regulations that reduce carbon pollution, issuing a new rule that moves coal power plant regulation from the EPA back to individual states, proposing to relax rules around monitoring and repairing methane leaks, and opening the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

The UN special report, global warming of 1.5°C, was written by 91 authors from 44 citizenships and 40 countries, and it provides information for policymakers and practitioners to make decisions that tackle climate change said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, adding “The next few years are probably the most important in our history.”

The question is: Will governments around the world, including the current administration in Washington D.C., heed the message?

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 IPCC Working Group III.