Image: Andreas Habich/Wikimedia Commons CC BY–SA 3.0
The scientists are clear: “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are needed if the humans are going to prevent the world warming by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
This news — emanating from the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) mammoth new special report — comes as a surprise to almost no-one. Least of all the fossil fuel industry, which has known for decades that the carbon budget that keeps that goal within reach has been rapidly depleting thanks to its products.
So how did we get here, to a place where plotting a path to keep planetary warming within this highly desirable limit requires changes on a scale for which “there is no documented historic precedent”?
Exxon Knew, Shell Knew
Fossil fuel companies have known for decades that their products would lead us to this point.
Back in 1982, Exxon published this graph, which shows a probable temperature rise of 1.5°C some time between 2030 and 2040:
Source: Graph from an internal 1982 Exxon briefing document
Today’s report confirms how scarily accurate that prediction is likely to be — it says that on current trends, the world is expected to wam by 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052. It also shows that the world has already currently warmed by about 1°C since pre-industrial levels thanks to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
Exxon wasn’t the only fossil fuel company to commit resources to understanding this problem in the early days. An internal document from 1988 shows Shell also knew back that fossil fuel emissions were likely to lead to 1.5°C to 3.5°C of warming. On current trends, they’d be right — under current policies, the world is expected to warm by about 3.1°C to 3.7°C.
Source: Clipping from a 1988 internal Shell document entitled, ‘The Greenhouse Effect’
The IPCC’s special report is the result of a huge collaboration between 91 authors and 114 co-authors, with 42,000 comments on drafts of the document, Climate Home reports.
The report says that if the world is going to keep to 1.5°C of warming without ‘overshooting’ — passing the limit then using technology to bring warming back down — then “rapid and far -reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure” are needed.
“These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options”, the scientists say.
…But the IPCC says the benefits of delivering that more ambitious target are big, and worth pursuing.
But the IPCC report has confirmed an inconvenient truth for the industry: that if temperature rises are going to be held to safe level, there is little space for fossil fuels.
The report says that if warming is going to be limited to 1.5°C, with limited or no overshoot, renewables will need to provide 70 to 85 percent of electricity in 2050. MORE