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'Unprecedented change' needed to meet 1.5 degree Paris climate change target

Out-Law News | 08 Oct 2018 | 4:16 pm | 2 min. read

Renewable energy will need to supply over 70% of electricity by 2050 and low emission energy used for up to 65% of transport if the 1.5 °C climate change target is to be met, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said.

Three years ago, in 2015, 195 nations signed up to the Paris agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to reduce global warming to “well below” 2 degrees. Today, United Nations (UN) group the IPCC issued a report proposing that the global community should work together to limit the effect of global warming. It said that global warming should be limited to 1.5 ºC instead of 2 ºC, which would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Environmental law expert James Nierinck of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said the report “delivers a stark message: that we are off-target and the transition required limit climate change to 1.5 °C will require ‘unprecedented’ change”.

“The report highlights that global man-made CO2 emissions will need to decline ‘by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030’ to keep the world ‘on track’,” Nierinck said.

“In the energy sector, IPCC scenario modelling shows us that to hit the 1.5 °C target, renewables will need to supply around 70-85% of electricity by 2050. Nuclear and gas with carbon capture storage are expected to play an enhanced role in this pathway, while coal will reduce to close to 0 %,” Nierinck said.

Nierinck said the report showed that across industry, to stay on target, CO2 emissions would need to reduce around 75-90%, through technologies such as electrification, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. In the transport sector, the share of low-emission final energy would need to rapidly ramp up from less than 5% in 2020 to around 35-65% in 2050.

“In all, the report acknowledges that widespread and rapid change across energy systems, industry, urban infrastructure, buildings and land use is required to stay on track. This report has been heralded as a ‘wake-up call’ for governments and industry – time will tell whether its recommendations are followed,” Nierinck said.

The IPCC said that keeping the rise to below 1.5ºC could limit many of the most severe impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, the destruction of coral reefs or melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. It said that keeping global warming to this level would also help reduce inequalities and poverty globally, but that international cooperation was key to succeeding.

Global net human-caused emissions of CO2 would need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050, with any remaining emissions balanced out by the removal of CO2 from the air.

The report said global warming was likely to reach 1.5ºC between 2030 and 2052. It warned that the projections made by countries submitting to the 2015 Agreement would not limit global warming to this level, and avoiding “overshoot” was only possible if global CO2 emissions started to decline well before 2030.

The IPCC said the kind of actions required were already underway, but needed to accelerate to achieve the goal it was proposing. The report is likely to be discussed in December at the annual UN climate talks in Katowice in Poland, where participants will try to finalise the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement.