UN report uncovers the disastrous impacts half a degree could have on the planet

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that the balance of the planet hinges upon half a degree, arguing that there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept at a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which the impacts of droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty will put hundreds of millions of people at risk.

The report conducted by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released on Monday, outlines the severity of the situation and calls for urgent and unprecedented changes to meet the ambitious target.

The difference between 1.5C and 2C

Whilst half a degree sounds like an insignificant amount, the difference between 1.5C and 2C could mean disaster for hundreds of millions of people.

At 1.5C the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower than at 2C, food scarcity would be less of a problem and the risk of climate-related poverty will be significantly reduced.

In addition, the days of extreme heat such as those experienced in the northern hemisphere this summer would become more common, increasing heat-related deaths and causing more forest fires.

But most daunting of all is the impact it will have on nature. Insects, which play a vital role in food production, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at 2C compared to 1.5C. Corals would be 99% lost at the higher of the two temperatures, but there is a chance that more than 10% could be saved if the lower target is reached.

Source: IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C

The impact on the oceans

With a 1.5C rise, sea levels are forecast to be 10 cm lower than at 2C, exposing about 10 million fewer people in coastal areas to risks such as floods, storm surges and salt spray damaging crops.

Whilst the Arctic, which is warming two to three times faster than the world average, would suffer from sea ice-free summers once every 100 years at 1.5C, but every 10 years with a 2C increase.

Oceans are already suffering from elevated acidity and lower levels of oxygen as a result of climate change, harming marine life and causing mass coral bleaching.

As our oceans are critical to human health, and without them we cannot survive,  ensuring we keep sea temperatures to a minimum is of utmost importance.

What now

The reality is we are currently looking at around 3 to 4 degrees of warming by the year 2100; if we don’t change our lifestyles and continue to burn fossil fuels.

Mark Howden, director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, suggests that “limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is not impossible but would actually require major transitions in many aspects of society, and to do those transitions, in the next 10 years are critical.”

Many of these transitions will mean reducing if not completely stopping the release of greenhouse gases through the burning of fossil fuels, land-clearing and other human activities.

The report outlines a number of different scenarios to stay below 1.5C, with one suggesting technological innovations and changes in lifestyle could sharply lower energy demand by 2050 even with rising economic growth.

It argues that renewable energies, such as wind, solar and hydropower, would have to surge 60 percent from 2020 levels by 2050 to stay below 1.5C while primary energy from coal decreases by two-thirds.

Whilst switching to renewables is not the sole answer, the IPCC report highlights the urgency to stop using fossil fuels and adopt alternative clean energy sources if we want to protect the future of the planet.


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