22nd September saw the second and final full day of the conference “1.5 degrees: Meeting the challenges of the Paris Agreement”, organised by the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.
While day one largely focused on the impacts of a 1.5C warmer world and how to adapt to them, day two turned towards meeting the 1.5C goal set out in the Paris Agreement, and the implications for emissions reductions, financing, and governance.
Pathways to 1.5C
Janos Pasztor, senior advisor to the UN secretary-general, opened the day’s talks by sharing his thoughts on the mitigation challenges of 1.5C: “We can [now] actually concentrate on the real implementation of the Paris Agreement, which is about what countries will actually do to reduce emissions, to adapt to climate change, to provide financial resources.”
Pasztor highlighted that achieving stringent mitigation is going to require a fundamental change for society: “In the longer-term, I think it’s very clear that in order to reach those goals and maintain those goals, we need nothing less than a revolution, not just in terms of new technologies, but also social organisation – the way we make use of those technologies.”
Picking up on a theme that has been prominent during the conference, Pasztor said that these technologies could include negative emissions. But he’s still not sure if they are a “really serious set of technologies” that will start making a difference, or a “simple fudge factor to make sure our global models come to zero [emissions]”.
In the longer-term, I think it’s very clear that in order to reach those goals and maintain those goals, we need nothing less than a revolution, not just in terms of new technologies, but also social organisation – the way we make use of those technologies.
Janos Pasztor, senior advisor to the UN secretary-general
Summarising some of the discussions from day one of the conference, Pasztor put a question to the delegates sitting before him: “There are mixed messages coming out here. Can we, or can we not, reach 1.5C? Or even 2C? And to what extent is 1.5C going to be more difficult?”
This challenge led nicely into the talk from Dr Elmar Kriegler, vice-chair of sustainable solutions at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who presented on the latest scientific literature regarding the emissions reductions needed to keep global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
The first step to reducing emissions down to zero is to reverse the trend of increasing emissions, noted Kriegler. Once emissions peak, he asked whether we can then reduce emissions fast enough to meet the 1.5C limit.
Kriegler went on to discuss what a carbon-neutral society could look like and some of the remaining research challenges. One of the most prominent is how to tackle the hard-to-eliminate emissions – or “decarbonisation bottlenecks” – in sectors, such as freight, aviation, shipping, heavy industry and agriculture.
The emissions pathways for 1.5C that have emerged from the latest research will “hopefully” be ready to run through global climate models to feed into the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), said Kriegler, but won’t be in time for the IPCC’s 1.5C special report.