Caribbean has long pushed for 1.5C — UWI scientists

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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In the wake of last week's release of the IPCC 1.5 Report , Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The University of the West Indies (The UWI), Mona and a lead author of the report Professor Michael Taylor has pointed out that scientists from the Caribbean and other small island state regions have been preaching for years that 1.5C should be the target temperature increase in the race to dial down the projected negative impacts of climate change.

The report, the latest in a series from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessing scientific, technical, and socio-economic information regarding climate change, reveals that the planet — particularly Small Island States (SIDS) — will reach 1.5C above pre-industrial levels as early as 2030.

Compared to 2C, 1.5C would mean lower water stress, less intense rainfall during tropical cyclones, and less exposure to irreversible sea level rise. At 1.5C some coral reefs will be able adapt, while at 2C their chances of survival are next-to-none, and the fisheries and livelihoods that depend on them will be irrevocably damaged.

“Caribbean scientists have long held the position that (global temperature rise of) 1.5C may be the limit of global warming that vulnerable regions such as ours can tolerate,” Dr Taylor said.

The position — framed with the tag line '1.5 to Stay Alive' — was the basis of the negotiating arguments which Caribbean governments tabled at the global climate change conference in Paris in 2016.

“[But] even 1.5C poses significant risks to the most vulnerable. Global action on climate change is not optional but is a must. I am hoping we can spur a region-wide movement in response to this report, its findings and the significance for the region. Every half degree of warming counts. The global target of 1.5C comes with significant risk [but] these risks pale compared to 2C, which has long been viewed as the realistic target.

“To keep warming at 1.5C requires significant global transformation in energy, transport etc. In the Caribbean, we must undertake those measures geared at adaptation and mitigation. We must also by example, or influence, persuasion or advocacy, model the social order that living within 1.5C demands,” Taylor argued.

Professor Taylor spearheaded the regional input in the document and wrote the report's summary for policymakers.

The report, Taylor said, has for the first time in the history of IPCC reports, provided “concrete information on loss and damage”.

“It has laid out some limits to adaptation will have already been reached at 1.5C, and indicated that at 2C there is a much higher chance of irreversible losses,” the authors say.

Professor Leonard Nurse of the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the UWI Cave Hill and contributing author of the report stressed that it's small island states that will bear the brunt of the temperature fallout and argued that deep emission cuts are the best way to stave off the worst projected effects.

“The conclusions are clear. While the application of various mitigation and adaptation technologies will be helpful, there is absolutely no substitute for deep emission cuts at source, particularly in high emitting countries. The report also corroborates previous IPCC findings that small island and low-lying states such as ours in the Caribbean are among the countries at highest risk,” he said.

“In practical terms, this means that in spite of all the mitigation and adaptation measures we implement, our fate still lies in the hands of the developed, industrialised north and other high emitters, some of which are still classified as developing countries. The report identifies pathways for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to a level that might achieve a target less than 2C, even if the more desirable 1.5C target is elusive. What the report also suggests, if only by implication, is that global politics and policy now need to catch up with the reality of the science,” Professor Nurse explained.

Nurse was part of The UWI team — the others being professors Anthony Chen and John Agard — that shared in the glory of the Nobel Peace Prize jointly awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore Jr in 2007.

The authors also pointed out that IPCC 1.5 Report, “puts to rest claims that 1.5C cannot be achieved. Holding warming to 1.5C throughout the 21st century is feasible, and is likely to have considerable sustainable development benefits. What is standing in the way is a lack of real commitment to ambitious action from governments and non-state actors”.

They added that the comitments amde under the Paris Agreement aren't sufficient.

“It shows that all countries and non-state actors need to act and that, to date, action hasn't been sufficient,” they said.

“The world needs to make an urgent switch from fossil fuels to renewables. We must decarbonise the electricity sector by 2050. This means rapidly reducing our energy demand and rapidly accelerating the energy system transformation that has already started. We need to halve global C02 emissions in the next 10 years (by 2030 from 2010 levels). And the first – and most urgent – thing to do is to phase out our use of coal to zero by 2050,” the report says.

Speaking on The UWI's contributions to the report, Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles conveyed pride in the work of the university's scientists.

“This kind of work reaffirms the relevance of The UWI to the region as an activist university. The climate change discourse will reveal the need for this region to address the fundamental issues: economic growth, technological advancements, inequality, democracy and social justice. All of those big issues come into the fore of the climate change issue,” he said.

Jeremy Collymore, Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Development, and resilience consultant to the Office of the Vice-Chancellor said the university will use the report to organise internal briefings with its research, teaching and administrative staff.

“This global assent provides a platform for advancing our sustainable development agenda informed by considerations based on 1.5C scenarios in the first instance. The UWI will also be supporting efforts to brief regional policy makers, technocrats, private sector and civil society on the 1.5 to Stay Alive agenda and the options for enhancing resilience. The science is not in question, but the commitment to action may be,” said Collymore.

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