A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) shows how urgently the planet needs to act to limit global warming to 1.5oC over the pre-industrial temperature, or face consequences far worse than estimated earlier. The report says that, at the current rate, global warming will breach the 1.5oC threshold between 2030 and 2052. Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases would need to be cut by half of the present level by 2030 and virtually eliminated by 2050 if the Earth’s warming is to avoid overshooting the 1.5oC target. Fossil fuel use has pushed carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to above 405 parts per million, or more than 30% above pre-industrial levels. If the world fails in reducing emissions at such rates, carbon dioxide will need to be sucked out of atmosphere at a massive scale, and the technology, IPCC says, is yet unproven in terms of scale achievable and could even carry significant risks for sustainability. Given how limited room is left before the temperature target is breached—since the late 1880s, global temperature has already risen by 1oC, leaving a margin of just 0.5oC—the efforts need to be ambitious beyond previously imagined and, more importantly, coordinated. The rest of the world can’t simply afford to helplessly wring hands, as climate-sceptic leaders like Donald Trump, who has already marched the US out of the Paris climate accord, push the planet closer to the brink. More so when the commitments made by signatories to the Paris deal are nowhere near enough to avoid the 1.5oC cap being breached. The IPCC report has already made the consequences of not acting decisively and urgently clear. If warming breaches the 1.5oC cap, the sea level could rise more than six feet, causing several areas to simply drown; the frequency of floods and droughts will rise drastically while countries like India will suffer from killer heat-waves on almost a daily basis in summers and eroded food security.
The Trump administration has signalled how obstructive it will be in initiating the necessary policy measures by refusing to endorse the findings of the new report. While the summary presented to policymakers at the release of the report paints a bleak enough picture, findings in the other parts of the report fully articulate the catastrophe Earth is headed towards—the tipping points beyond which the climate change impacts become irreversible and, worse, even accelerate. A paper published in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources took up the question of the total investments required to keep global warming to below 1.5oC by the end of the century, and found that this needs just 50% more than the investment required to keep it under 2oC. World leaders, including the Indian leadership, must press the likes of Trump and Australian PM Scott Morrison, both of whom have not just followed a policy of climate inaction, but also of one that exacerbate potential impact, to either reform or bear the costs of mitigation efforts.