An Overview of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 Degrees of Warming (Part 2)

Following on Part 1 of our blog on the recent IPCC special report related to climate change, this blog (Part 2) focuses on the path forward and is written by Maggie Zeh, senior at Rock Canyon High School. Maggie worked with Lotus as part of her senior career exploration coursework. She is passionate about the environment and interested in pursuing a career in sustainability. Maggie plans to continue following these passions this fall at the University of Michigan, where she will major in Environmental Science. Lotus wishes Maggie all the best in her future endeavors!

Photo by Jeff King on Unsplash

Photo by Jeff King on Unsplash

Emission Pathways and System Transitions Consistent with 1.5ºC Global Warming

In order to limit climate change to 1.5 ºC, anthropogenic CO2 emissions would need to decrease by 45% of 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. This is possible through renewable energy, feedstocks with sustainable diets, replacing GHG-intensive products with more natural ones, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). Improved air quality and nearly immediate health benefits can be experienced by reducing non-CO2 emissions, including methane. Limiting global warming requires rapid transitions in energy, land, urban environments, infrastructure, and industrial systems which have never been done on such a wide scale. Renewable energy would have to provide 70%-85% of electricity in 2050 in order to limit warming to 1.5 ºC. Energy from coal would have to be almost entirely eliminated, while only 8% of electricity could come from natural gas. Recent improvements in renewable energy and storage indicate that such a transition could be attainable. Land use would also have to change, including devoting less land to agriculture or transitioning to more regenerative land management practices. This can be attained by ecosystem restoration and less resource-intensive diets. These necessary transitions could be inhibited by economic, institutional, and socio-cultural barriers.

           Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) could help eventually achieve negative net emissions. This includes replanting forests, restoring land, carbon sequestration, and the capture and storage of carbon in the atmosphere. All of these result in a smaller amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Almost all pathways that limit global warming to 1.5 ºC utilize CDR to some extent. CDR would also be beneficial for improving biodiversity, soil quality, and food security.

Strengthening the Global Response in the Context of Sustainable Development and Social Justice

Limiting warming to 1.5 ºC can only be achieved if CO2 emissions start to decline very soon. At current rates, global warming of 3 ºC by 2100 can be expected. Sustainable development, the eradication of poverty, and the reduction of inequality will be easier and more attainable if warming is limited to 1.5 ºC. Sustainable development balances social well-being, economic prosperity, and environmental protection. Mitigation efforts will be more feasible with strengthened governance, improved technology, and lifestyle changes. Adaptation methods have the potential to help the environment but could also be damaging if not properly carried out. Adaptation is most effective when its methods keep in mind economic and sustainable development. Adaptation which reduces emissions will typically result in significant cost savings. Pathways that include low energy demand, reduced material consumption, and less GHG-intensive diets have the most benefits for sustainable development and the least tradeoffs. Mitigation can pose economic risks for regions associated with high dependency on fossil fuels for revenue. These challenges can be addressed by policies that promote diversification of the economy and the energy sector. To limit risks to sustainable development and poverty eradication, system transitions will need an increase of investments, policies, technology, and behavior changes. While confronting climate change, it is important to keep in mind social justice: create positive change without making certain groups of people worse off. Many pathways limiting climate change require international cooperation and the support of governments, civil society, the private sector, indigenous peoples, and local communities.


           There are many pathways which can be used to address the issue of climate change. Some changes are more necessary and will be more effective than others. Local governments around the world have very strong potential to address and mitigate the long-term impacts of climate change and are therefore uniquely positioned to take affective action in their policies and practices to address climate change. Technology is evolving and changing constantly, and this evolution and innovation will also play a key role in how climate change will be handled. New ways to carry out daily operations more sustainably will help make this as smooth of a transition as possible. It is entirely possible to limit climate change while also improving the quality of life for everyone, and this will be achieved most successfully if the entire global community participates.

IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In:Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty[Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)].World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, 32 pp.