October 10th, 2018
Fossil fuel use must peak by 2020 to avert the most devastating impacts of climate change
Fifteen months. That’s how long humankind has to begin dramatically decreasing greenhouse gas emissions if we hope to maintain a climate hospitable to civilization. That’s the urgent message from a report released Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report, which examined various scenarios to avoid the extreme impacts of climate change, found that limiting Earth’s “warming to 1.5° Celsius would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
“This sobering report is a reminder that climate change changes everything,” said Jeff Mikulina, Executive Director of Blue Planet Foundation—a nonprofit committed to tackling the climate change challenge by clearing the path for 100% clean energy. “We need to take bold action today—we can no longer say that we didn’t know,” he added. “The physics of climate change have caught up with us, and now we face a time-limited test—if we don’t win soon, we don’t win, period.”
The report—titled the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C—was written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies, in response to an invitation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when it adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015. While the Trump Administration has unilaterally decided to withdraw from the international agreement, Hawaii—and many other states, cities, and organizations—have pledged to “stay in” and strive to meet the agreement’s objective of seeking to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
The focus of the report was to better understand how we could possibly achieve 1.5°C—and what happens if we fail. Many scientists believe that 1.5°C is the “red line” between serious climate change and devastating climate change. (The full report is available online: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/).
Since pre-industrial times, human activity has warmed the world by approximately 1°C, and the impacts of this warming are already being felt in many parts of the world, including Hawaii. Temperatures have increased and tradewind days have decreased. Rising sea levels have threatened coastal areas around the islands. In addition, Hawaii has seen an increase in major downpour events, such as the record-breaking rainfall that devastated the north shore of Kauai in April this year.
Among the report’s key findings were the following:To meet the goal of keeping the global temperature increase to 1.5°C, world greenhouse gas emissions must peak within 15 months from today.
Emissions in 2030 would also need to be about 50% less than 2010 levels.
The difference in impacts between 1.5 and 2 degrees are significant; it could be make-or-break for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, for example, which alone could cause about 11 feet of sea level rise—flooding the most populated areas in Hawaii.
Humankind would need to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, and negative emissions thereafter, using carbon removal technologies.
Scientists involved with the report noted that limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.
“We have grown our fossil fuel use for over the past century and a half,” said Lauren Reichelt, Clean Transportation Lead at Blue Planet Foundation. “Now we must end our use within decades.” She added, “The report calls on all of us—governments, communities, individuals—to make that happen, whether it’s switching your gasoline vehicle to an electric one or making your voice heard when lawmakers are facing tough but important policy decisions about our path forward.”
Hawaii has emerged as a leader on clean energy policy, adopting a number of bold, first-in-the-nation targets that have inspired action elsewhere. Hawaii was the first state in the country to adopt a 100% renewable energy requirement for electricity by 2045 (California followed with a similar law last month). Hawaii has also pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.
The report, however, stressed the need for a large-scale transition away from fossil fuels even sooner, noting that near-term reductions in fossil fuel use are critical to avoid the risk of passing through climate “tipping points.” These are thresholds beyond which certain impacts—such as the melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets—can no longer be avoided, even if temperatures are brought back down later on.
“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, in a statement in the news release accompanying the release of the report.
Blue Planet Foundation has been working to change Hawaii’s energy culture for over a decade. The organization’s theory of change is that Hawaii can be a test bed for clean energy policies, programs, and progress on clean energy solutions.
“Hawaii is perfectly positioned to be a global model for how to quickly transition to a just, equitable, and sustainable clean energy future,” said Melissa Miyashiro, Blue Planet Foundation’s Chief of Staff. “Indeed, in some ways we already are, with others, such as California, embracing and joining in our policy leadership. But the window of opportunity to meaningfully influence the trajectory of climate change is closing quickly.”
Among its identified response strategies, the report stressed the potential role of a tax on greenhouse gas emissions, concluding that “a price on carbon is central to prompt mitigation.” To be effective, however, such a price would have to be between $135 to $5,500 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution in 2030, and from $690 to $27,000 per ton by 2100. With Hawaii’s current tax of $1.05 per barrel of imported oil, the state has a “de facto” carbon price of about $2.40 per ton, or about 2.5 cents per gallon of gasoline. A $5,500 per ton carbon tax would equate to an additional $50 per gallon of gasoline.
“This report is a shocking reminder that humans are literally a force of nature,” added Miyashiro. “But we can choose to use that force for good.”
“This challenge demands the best of each of us. It demands hope, imagination, and radical change,” said Mikulina. “The stakes are simply too high, and time too short, to settle for anything less.”