The latest report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is blunt in its dire assessments for the future of the planet – the immediate consequences of climate change is far worse than previously thought and to avoid this scenario, the world economy will need to be transformed at a speed and scale that has ‘no documented historic precedent’.

The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C was approved by the IPCC in Incheon, Republic of Korea, and will be a key scientific input into the Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland in December, where governments from across the world will review the Paris Agreement. As an outcome of this Agreement, the IPCC was invited to produce this special report on global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. The report has contributions from 91 authors and review editors from 40 countries, and has more than 6,000 scientific references cited and the input of hundreds of thousands of experts and government reviewers worldwide.

The report clearly asserts that 1.5 °C should be the global target for limiting the rise in global temperature above pre-industrial levels, rather than 2 °C. For instance, by 2100, global sea-level rise will be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5 °C compared with 2 °C; also, with 1.5 °C, the likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer will be once per century, compared with at least once per decade with 2 °C. Limiting warming to 1.5 °C will also bring clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, and can lead to a more sustainable and equitable society. The message is clear: every extra degree of warming has irreversible and devastating consequences.

The report found that if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 1.5 °C by 2040, inundating coastlines and resulting in frequent and intense droughts and poverty. Previous work had considered 2 °C to be the threshold for the most severe effects of climate change. This new report, however, shows that many of those effects will come much sooner at the 1.5 °C mark, and that the world is already more than halfway towards this critical point.

In the press release, Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I, said, ‘One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1 °C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.’

Achieving this, though, will require ‘rapid and far-reaching’ changes in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities – essentially everything that human beings use and depend on. Global net human-caused carbon emissions will need to fall by about 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions will need to be removed from the air. Whether that technology can be devised and implemented by then is questionable.

By 2050, the use of coal for electricity will have to drop from the current 40 per cent to between 1 and 7 per cent, and renewable energy sources, which are at about 20 per cent of the electricity mix today, will have to increase to 67 per cent.

It is then a matter of serious concern that the political will to make this happen is missing. For example, it is highly unlikely that the US (which has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement) will agree to carbon pricing – should be as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100 as per the report’s assessment – which is an essential measure to combat global warming.

IPCC is a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to assess climate-change data, the science and impact, and give recommendations to world leaders.