2018 and the great ‘ambition’ divide

February 14, 2018

Posted by: Frances Lawson

Two recent items of international climate change news have placed into stark focus one of the issues set to take centre stage later in the year. After a controversial ‘leak’, the draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) much awaited report on the 1.5 degree warming target in the Paris Agreement, and on the consequences of not meeting that target, have unexpectedly entered the public realm. Embarrassed, the IPCC has stated that its findings and recommendations could alter ‘substantially’ between the first and the final draft. But at the moment, its message is clear, albeit not particularly new; even 1.5 degrees will have severe consequences for poor and coastal regions in particular, and is likely to see ocean reefs deprived of coral and the Arctic relieved of ice. If we only constrain global warming to 2 degrees, an extra 10cm rise in sea level is expected over the course of this century relative to 1.5 degrees of warming. Those are just selected excerpts from a grim set of scientific predictions – see the report here

Endeavouring to keep to 1.5 degrees of warming therefore is set to be the IPCC’s headline message when the final report is published in May. Meeting the 1.5 degree target, however, will require what the draft report describes as a level of global cooperation hitherto unknown in the history of mankind.

And that’s where we look ahead to the next major international climate change conference – COP24, to be held in Katowice, Poland. What are the prospects of Katowice delivering an unprecedented level of global cooperation in furtherance of the 1.5 degree objective? Judging by the early pronouncements coming from the Polish government, the prospects are slim indeed. Two weeks ago, Poland’s lead negotiator gave a public statement saying that at COP24, his country will put “common sense over calls for ambition”. In case one should be optimistic in thinking that Poland’s idea of “common sense” might align with that of the IPCC, he went on to add that this means prioritising poverty eradication and energy security over what he called “enthusiasm”. The global warming limits contained in the Paris Agreement are, he said, “unattainable” see more here

On this basis, COP24 looks likely not only to fail to secure the global cooperation needed for any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, but also for meeting the 2 degree target, too. If ever there was a need for a new legal approach to international climate change, that time looks set to be upon us.