This year, the annual Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place in Katowice, Poland, bringing together a registered 14,000 party delegates for two weeks of intensive climate talks.
This 24th COP was considered the most important UNFCCC COP since the 2015 Paris COP. The topic for this year was the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report – Global Warming of 1.5°C.
Scientific evidence for the 1.5 degree target
The IPCC’s report provides substantive scientific evidence that human activities are estimated to have caused 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels.
According to the report, global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. It is estimated that anthropogenic global warming is currently increasing at between 0.1°C and 0.3°C per decade due to past and ongoing emissions.
Additionally, limiting global warming to 1.5°C could help avoid some of the most terrible effects of climate change, and potentially save vulnerable regions such as low-lying islands and coastal villages. It also underscored that the world would have to reduce greenhouse gases by approximately 45% by 2030.
The main objective of the report is to provide the scientific context and evidence needed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.
Yet, in the face of this evidence, the four big oil and gas producing countries of the world remained adamant to deny the validity of the findings. Saudi Arabia, the United States, Kuwait and Russia said it was enough for the Members of the UNFCCC to “note” the findings, while undeveloped countries, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Europeans supported a motion to “welcome” the study.
The Caribbean position
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) negotiators had a singular message to share – Ambitions need to be ramped up and climate action needs to be taken to achieve the 1.5 degree target fixed by the Paris Agreement. SIDS and low-lying nations are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
The takeaway? We need 1.5 to Stay Alive.
In its Regional Statement on the IPCC report, CARICOM makes known that it welcomes the adoption of the IPCC Special Report.
Indeed, the report is a game changer – it provides strong scientific support for the disproportionate risks facing small islands at 1.5°C. Limiting temperatures to 1.5°C is feasible, but would require urgent, widespread and transformative change and international cooperation. The response to climate change must be underpinned by equity, social justice and the best available science.
Showing further support for the report, CARICOM mentions its findings that containing warming to 1.5°C throughout the 21st century is technically and economically feasible and is likely to have considerable sustainable development benefits.
Caribbean countries go on to stress that urgent action on emissions reduction is required, bolstered by real commitment to ambitious action from governments and non-state actors.
Where are we now?
Globally, we are already at 1°C of warming and may reach 1.5°C as early as 2030 if warming continues at existing rates. If emissions stopped today we would be unlikely to reach 1.5°C. Nevertheless, we are already experiencing irreversible loss and damage in land and ocean ecosystems as a result of climate change.
The Caribbean need not look too far back, having experienced the worst hurricane season on record in September 2017 and many islands suffering ongoing and worsening droughts across the region.
The risks of climate change are worse than previously projected, with significant differences in risks between 1.5°C and 2°C for many regions, particularly for small islands. They face limits to adaptation, as well as the potential of irreversible losses of marine and coastal ecosystems at 1.5°C.
Small islands face a disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences due to increased global warming, including risks to coastal and marine resources, livelihoods, health, water supply, food security, human security, economic growth and sustainable development.
In addition, at 1.5°C of warming, 70-90% of coral reefs will be severely degraded, increasing to 99% at 2°C. This will have severe impacts on the ecosystems, and on the communities and livelihoods that rely upon them. Instabilities in ice sheets could be triggered at around 1.5°C to 2°C of global warming, resulting in irreversible multi-metre sea level rise.
Where do we want to go?
We need to limit warming to 1.5°C. For this reason, the Caribbean countries will continue to champion the campaign.
Current nationally-stated mitigation ambitions as submitted under the Paris Agreement would fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Current mitigation ambitions cumulatively track toward 3-4°C of warming by 2100 with the potential for further warming thereafter. Ambitions need to be improved and rules need to be in favour of 1.5.
Global emissions need to peak around 2020 and the world needs to halve the amount of global CO2 emissions at 2010 levels by 2030. The world must ensure that CO2 emissions stop by 2050 and steeply reduce the use of coal and work toward a global phase out by 2050.
To achieve 1.5°C, there must be increasing investments in a range of mitigation efforts, including shifting financial flows towards renewable energy.
How do we get there?
We must seize the opportunity to slow the dangerous trend of rising temperatures, essential to the survival of Caribbean SIDS. Member States must acknowledge and act on the work of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.
Developed countries must pick up the speed and increase the scale at which they provide funding and technical support to the poorest countries. Rules must be adopted under the enhanced transparency framework (ETF) that enable us to understand individual country progress and collective progress towards the 1.5°C warming limit and other Paris Agreement goals.
The Caribbean supports the 1.5 degree target. For us, it’s a matter of survival or extinction.