Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, speaks during a press conference at Songdo Convensia in Incheon, South Korea, on 8 October 2018. Photo: Jung Yeon-Je / AFP / Getty Images

ByJonathan Watts and Matthew Taylor
8 October 2018

(The Guardian) – World leaders have been told they have moral obligation to ramp up their action on the climate crisis in the wake of a new UN report that shows even half a degree of extra warming will affect hundreds of millions of people, decimate corals, and intensify heat extremes.

But the muted response by Britain, Australia, and other governments highlights the immense political challenges facing adoption of pathways to the relatively safe limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures outlined on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With the report set to be presented at a major climate summit in Poland in December, known as COP24, there is little time for squabbles. The report noted that emissions need to be cut by 45 percent by 2030 in order to keep warming within 1.5C. That means decisions have to be taken in the next two years to decommission coal power plants and replace them with renewables, because major investments usually have a lifecycle of at least a decade.

Mary Robinson, a UN special envoy on climate, said Europe should set an example by adopting a target of zero-carbon emissions by 2050. “Before this, people talked vaguely about staying at or below 2C – we now know that 2C is dangerous,” she said. “So it is really important that governments take the responsibility, but we must all do what we can.”

The UK, which has gone further than most nations by cutting its annual emissions by 40% since 1990, will need to step up if the more ambitious goal is to be reached.

But there is increasing pushback by the world’s powerful fossil fuel and agribusiness interests, who are supporting politicians who are apathetic or hostile to climate action. The new IPCC report stressed the urgent need for reforestation and greater forest protection, but within hours of its release the first round of the Brazilian presidential election ended with a huge lead for Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised to quit the Paris accord and open up the Amazon rainforest to farmers and miners.

Risks to different Earth systems due to rising global mean surface temperature. Data: IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C. Graphic: The Guardian

Donald Trump has also announced that the U.S. will pull out of the climate deal. And in Australia, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said there was no money for “global climate conferences and all that nonsense”.

So far, however, no government has actually dropped out and civil society groups say the new report by scientists will help them put pressure on leaders to aim for the safer, lower level of warming.

“Any administration, and it would appear especially the U.S. and Australia, that pushes damaging domestic policies and picks apart science consensus is a dangerous outlier by ignoring the deadly impacts now due to climate chaos,” said Rachel Kennerley of Friends of the Earth. [more]

World leaders 'have moral obligation to act' after UN climate report

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