IPCC report is a wake-up call: We need serious transformation to achieve the 1.5-degree target

On 8 October 2018 in Incheon, South Korea, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the leading international body mandated to assess climate change – released the Special Report on 1.5 Degrees, one of the most important scientific texts on climate change science released to date.

Through the Paris Agreement, nations have committed to limit global warming to no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, with the intention of remaining well below this target. The IPCC report outlines the likelihood and impacts of 1.5- and 2-degree warming scenarios.

Findings show that if global emissions continue along current trends, the planet will warm above 1.5 degrees as early 2030. Even in a 1.5-degree scenario, there will be significant global impacts: 70 to 90 percent decline in coral reefs, up to 69 million people exposed to flooding and 15 percent of the population exposed to severe heat. These numbers increase markedly in the 2-degree scenario. For instance, species lost will increase at least twofold.

To limit warming to 1.5 degrees, global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut to an average of 25 to 30 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2030 – a 45 percent decrease from 2010 levels. Global emissions would also need to reach net zero by 2050. The report also points to urban development as one of main drivers of transformation, underlining the need for engagement with local and regional governments. These findings give nations the information and the push they need to ratchet up their actions ahead of 2020 and deliver robust frameworks to strengthen climate action, multilevel governance - coordinated action among all levels of government - and collaboration with all in-country climate stakeholders. 

In light of these findings, ICLEI calls for:

More ambitious national targets that align with a 1.5-degree scenario. Nations need to significantly raise climate ambitions by COP24, the 24th United Nations Climate Change Conference this December – and well ahead of 2020, when nations are scheduled to communicate new or revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – their national climate action plans submitted under the Paris Agreement.

A strong urban perspective in climate science and policy. Earlier this week, the IPCC approved the main CitiesIPCC conference outcome: the multi-year Global Research and Action Agenda on Cities and Climate Change Science, and therefore, the critical role that cities play in achieving the 1.5-degree pathway. This agenda can now inform development of a robust evidence base around cities and climate change, to inform national climate policy from an urban perspective and enable more targeted city-level action. NDCs also need to account for the emissions reductions potential of urban areas.

A full reorientation towards multilevel climate governance in every country. Achieving the 1.5 degree pathway requires social transformation and integrated action across all levels of government. Pioneering leaders at the local level are key to instigating a shift towards 1.5-degree alignment. The more than 50 Cities and Regions Talanoa Dialogues held across the world over the course of 2018 can jumpstart multilevel action to achieve greater climate ambition.

A rapid, all-hands-on-deck transition to achieve climate neutrality and a fully decarbonized economy. Local, regional, and national governments, along with the business community and other key climate stakeholder need to bring the fossil fuel era to an immediate close. ICLEI has called on local and regional governments to achieve fully climate neutral government operations by mid-century by accelerating the transition to 100 percent renewable energy, divesting from fossil fuels, making sustainable investments and offsetting any remaining emissions.

Action on urban resilience that addresses severe possible climate impacts, based on at least a 2-degree scenario. Many communities already experience significant climate change impacts, and findings show that this will only intensify. While taking all necessary steps to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, resilience planning – particularly in vulnerable coastal and island communities – needs to quickly accelerate.

More robust climate investment to meet local demand. Financial institutions need to get serious about investing in low emission, resilient climate infrastructure projects, working with organizations like ICLEI and partners through the Transformative Actions Program (TAP), a local climate action incubator, which supports the Global Climate City Challenge launched by the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and the European Investment Bank.

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