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The chances of the world limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C since pre-industrial times are now less than the one-third to one-half predicted in the last landmark report by UN’s climate science body, its new chair said.
British academic Jim Skea, who has taken over as chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the continued rise of greenhouse gas emissions since its 2021 report had reduced the chances of curbing global warming.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, almost 200 countries agreed to limit global temperature rises to well below 2C — and ideally to 1.5C.
The IPCC report from two years ago laid out scenarios that would limit warming to 1.5C, with the likelihood of hitting that target ranging from 33 per cent to 50 per cent.
Carbon dioxide emissions from energy, the biggest contributor to global warming, continued to rise to an all-time high last year, according to the International Energy Agency, and are expected to rise still further this year.
“We have not seen the emission reductions that these scenarios [from the past research] actually assumed. So it must be less than 33 per cent now,” Skea told the Financial Times.
Skea, who co-authored the definitive IPCC report in 2018 that outlined the stark differences in the outcomes at 1.5C and 2C, said the 1.5C goal was not completely out of reach but was slipping away as emissions rose.
“It is still possible that warming will stay below 1.5C. But with every year that we continue emitting the kind of levels that we are at the moment, that is becoming less and less likely.”
Greenhouse gas emissions must fall by almost half by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5C. Temperatures have already risen by at least 1.1C, the IPCC found.
Skea said IPCC research found there was a “more optimistic picture” about the ability to limit temperature rises to 2C, while noting that “every fraction of a degree matters”.
The IPCC report he co-authored found a vast difference between the consequences of 1.5C and 2C of global warming. At the higher temperatures, there would be virtually no coral reefs left, crop yields would suffer much larger reductions, and a much larger proportion of the world’s population would be exposed to extreme heat over five years.
Skea also expressed concerns about the extreme temperatures seen so far in 2023, putting it on course to be the hottest year since records began.
“What we’re seeing are things that were projected in IPCC scenarios, but they appear to have happened much more quickly than anybody anticipated,” he said.
While an El Niño weather cycle, which pushes up temperatures, has begun this year and there is natural variability between years, he said scientists had expressed “astonishment” at the temperature highs seen so far.
“Some of the numbers we are seeing are just are just off the map,” he said.
Skea will lead the IPCC for the next five to seven years and will produce a number of reports until its present cycle ends in 2030. The focus of the majority of the reports is yet to be decided, but there will be one about cities.
He said the research would keep in mind the next so-called global stocktake due to take place in five years, as countries assess the progress they have made on cutting emissions.
This year’s stocktake, the first one since the Paris Agreement, has already shown the world is way off track on its goals to limit temperature rises.