IPCC Sets Plans for Next Major Report Cycle, 1.5 Degree Celsius Study

21 April 2016

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agreed last week in Nairobi on a timeframe for its next major series of climate reports – including a special report in 2018 on the ramifications of a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels.

The 1.5 degree Celsius report has drawn particular attention, given the outcomes reached at the UN’s Paris climate talks last year, including a universal emissions-cutting accord to begin in 2020. The decision to have a special study on the subject is in response to a specific request from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for such research, said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.

Given the gravity of climate change’s impacts, and the need to better understand the implications of such temperature implications, this report and other special publications will be produced “as early as possible” according to Lee, hence the 2018 release date.

“Our last assessment showed that some serious risks, for example affecting coral and potentially sea level rise, emerged already at 1.5 degrees. However, there was not much scientific research available on this topic and so we were not able to say very much in our last assessment,” the IPCC chair said, noting the importance of delving deeper.

The coming months will be key in setting the actual scope of these special reports, Lee told reporters. The scoping process is geared toward developing detailed outlines of these climate reports.

Notably, at the UNFCCC annual Conference of the Parties (COP), parties reaffirmed their past intentions to keep global average temperatures to well under a two degree Celsius rise relative to pre-industrial levels – but that they would also do their best to keep the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. (See BioRes, 13 December 2015)

AR6 timing set

The IPCC also set out the next steps and timeframe for releasing its “Sixth Assessment Report,” or AR6 – particularly in relationship to the expected entry into force of the Paris Agreement.

The IPCC releases a special report every six to seven years which assesses the state of the climate and the effect that manmade actions have in this area. The previous IPCC report, AR5, was issued in 2014 and called for a 40-70 percent emissions cut over the next four decades, compared to 2010 levels, with a view to reaching zero by century’s end to ward off the worst effects of climate change. (See Bridges Weekly, 6 November 2014)

The newest report will be released in stages, according to the IPCC. Three working group reports on topics surrounding physical science, adaptation, and mitigation will be published between 2020 and 2021, with the synthesis report linking all three areas being published in 2022.

Lee told reporters that the report will be ready “in good time” for a planned stocktaking of the Paris Agreement set for 2023.

The scoping process for AR6, he added, will also “pay special attention to” the particular impacts of climate change on cities, as well as their opportunities relating to adaptation and mitigation.

This latter move “represents a recognition that local (city) governments have critical roles in adaptation and mitigation,” said Dr. David Satterthwaite, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and co-author of the urban adaption chapter of AR5, in comments to Carbon Brief.

Related topics also discussed at the latest meeting included the possibility of releasing reports every five years, and keeping the press and public more engaged throughout the report drafting process to increase awareness of the issues discussed. 

Reports on oceans, food security forthcoming

The UN climate science agency also said it will be issuing special reports on “climate change and oceans and the cryosphere,” as well as on climate change and its relationship to issues such as food security and land degradation.

In AR5, oceans, the cryosphere, and sea level rise were addressed. However, having a special report on the subject could address some of the gaps in knowledge about their interlinkages, increasing the understanding of issues such as sea level rise and extreme events, said some of the working group co-chairs during the meet.

“The contributions of the oceans to mitigation are also poorly addressed in AR5. The magnitude of the issue and overarching implications would speak for the preparation of such [a special report],” noted the co-chairs of Working Group II.

Signing ceremony for climate accord

The outcome of the latest IPCC meeting comes ahead of the 22 April signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement, being held in New York. The Agreement, a universal emissions-cutting accord reached by nearly 200 nations late last year, must be ratified by at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions in order to come into effect.

Both China and the United States, which account for about 38 percent of emissions, have already indicated that they will sign on to the Agreement this Friday. Fiji, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands have already completed domestic ratification procedures. (See Bridges Weekly, 7 April 2016)

Other key events this month for climate watchers include the ongoing meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Environment Protection Committee. The gathering is supposed to examine, among other topics, a proposal for developing a work plan “to define international shipping’s contribution to the global efforts to address climate change,” according to the IMO website.

ICTSD reporting; “The IPCC’s Priorities for the Next Six Years: 1.5C, Oceans, Cities and Food Security,” CARBON BRIEF, 14 April 2016; “Paris Agreement Signing Ceremony Shows ‘Clean Energy Era is Upon Us’,” THE CLIMATE GROUP, 19 April 2016; “UN Climate Body Green-Lights 1.5C Report,” CLIMATE HOME, 14 April 2016.

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