The IPCC 1.5°C report and what it means for science-based targets

The next ten years will be crucial to limit global temperature rise. The IPCC’s Special Report sends a clear message: rapidly decarbonize the global economy to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

By the Science Based Targets initiative

Holding global temperature rise below 1.5°C will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Meanwhile, failing to act will leave millions more people in poverty, and lead to far-reaching negative impacts for global ecosystems, our shared prosperity and the global economy.

That’s the stark warning of the Intergovernmental on Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5°C Special Report, commissioned by world governments following the Paris Agreement in 2015, to assess the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming – the two goals which lay the foundation for the global accord.

A clear call for climate action

The report is also clear in its message that the next ten years will be crucial to limit global temperature rise and avoid the worst impact of climate change and the answer is clear: rapidly decarbonize the global economy.

With the world already experiencing substantial negative impacts of climate change at the current 1°C of warming, like more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice, the urgency of action is clear.

As the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres remarked in a speech on climate change (10 Sept), these temperature goals of 1.5°C and 2°C of warming are the “minimum” needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

1.5°C vs 2°C

These impacts are being felt in companies and supply chains across the globe, and, as the report highlights, the difference in their severity between the 1.5°C and 2°C temperature goals will be stark.

At 2°C of warming, the world could see coral reefs essentially wiped out, a doubling in the length of droughts, global sea level rise around 10 centimetres higher than at 1.5°C – putting another 10 million people at risk of flooding – and a reduced ability to grow key crops.

So what must be done?

According to the IPCC, holding temperature rise below 1.5°C will mean global emissions of CO2 will need to decline by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050.

To keep this goal within reach, renewables will need to provide some 85% of global electricity by the same year, while the use of coal will have to be nearly eliminated.

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) recognizes the urgency laid out by the IPCC’s 1.5°C report and supports its call for unprecedented, rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, infrastructure and industrial systems.

The role of companies

As key actors within all of these systems, companies must play a leading role in facilitating these transitions.

The SBTi aims to provide companies with a clearly-defined pathway to future-proof growth by aligning their strategies with the goals of the Paris Agreement and strives to use the most up-to-date climate science to aid companies in their target-setting process.

More than 490 companies are already developing business strategies that are aligned with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting temperature rise to well-below 2°C. As these companies recognize that greater ambition reaps greater benefits, some are now also pursuing 1.5°C aligned emissions reductions targets and committing to be net-zero by or before 2050.

These corporations are signalling the emergence of a ‘new normal’ in the way business are developing their strategies for the future, but we need all companies to follow in these leaders’ path and align their business strategies with what the science says is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Meanwhile, in the light of the IPCC’s Special Report, we need those leaders to continue to raise the bar in line with the latest science and push governments across the globe towards doing the same.

The SBTi and 1.5°C

To support this aim, the SBTi will be reviewing its target setting resources and target validation protocols to take into account the updates to scenarios published as part of the Special Report and enable companies to set targets that are aligned with 1.5C pathways.

These changes will be reflected in the next round of annual updates to the SBTi’s resources and will take effect in early 2019. Details on this will be made public in due course.

Advising on this process will be a newly formed Scientific Advisory Group, consisting of leading climate scientists from across the global, which convened for the first time in late September and which will ensure that all updates of the underlying science are appropriately taken into account in the SBTi’s resources.

The IPCC’s latest report is a stark reminder of both the immense stakes involved in a changing climate and the dramatic scale and pace of the transition required.

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