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The IPCC’s 1.5 Degree Target Is Utopian

Daniel Wetzel. Die Welt

The global CO2 budget for the 1.5 degree target has already been exhausted.

Even before the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had been published, the political statements had already been published.

Ecologically oriented parties and environmental groups in particular were certain in their assessment: “The world climate report confirms: The 1.5 degree target can still be achieved, but action must be taken now,” explained Lisa Badum, climate politician of the Green parliamentary party in the German Bundestag.

“It would mean a breach of the Paris Agreement” if the Federal Government and Parliament “do not allow the UN report to be followed for days”, explained Sven Harmeling, climate expert of the non-governmental organisation CARE. And Lisa Weis of the climate protection organisation believes she can even read from the UN report that “the coal phase-out in Germany must be completed by 2025 at the latest”.

The statements have one thing in common: they are not covered by the content of the IPCC report. However, they show that the game of interest groups called “framing” has now begun: Every lobbyist draws from the report of the UN Climate Council only what plays into his cards and drops everything else under the table. Whoever succeeds in pushing their capriciously interpretation of the facts has gained a piece of interpretive sovereignty, i.e. power.

‘The clock stands at five to twelve’

So what can we make of the Green interpretation according to which the IPCC still considers the 1.5 degree target to be achievable? The findings are astonishing because the global CO2 budget for this has actually long since been exhausted.

The “CO2 clock” led by the Mercator Research Institute (MCC), a kind of countdown, has already been running for 30 days in its middle scenario: The world should not have emitted any CO2 at all for four weeks if it wanted to reach the 1.5 degree target. The institute, led by climate economist Ottmar Edenhofer, also refers to UN calculations published in the IPCC’s last Assessment Report in 2015 for these figures.

But in the current climate report there are suddenly an additional 300 gigatons of CO2. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change apparently miscalculated the budget in 2015. The shameful admission can only be found hidden in Chapter C1.4, footnote 14. All of a sudden the world has gained another 7.5 years for CO2 reduction. Oliver Geden, one of the lead authors of the next United Nations Assessment Report, notes: “So the clock is now back at five to twelve for the 1.5-degree target.”

This saves some time, but not much. The new IPCC report calls for global CO2 emissions to be halved by at least 45 to 50 percent by 2030. But China, the planet’s largest emitter of CO2, does not want to save any CO2 at all by 2030, but to further increase emissions. According to its “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDC), China’s commitment in the Paris Agreement, these emissions are to reach their peak in the 2030s before they are being reduced.

The situation is similar in other countries: Turkey, one of the countries with the strongest economic growth in the world, does not want to start reducing net CO2 emissions until a few years from now. For the time being, the development of new opencast lignite mines is planned.

South Africa, too, is currently planning to build some of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants. Even despite the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement: Against this background, the feasibility of achieving the interim goal of halving global CO2 emissions by 2030 seems completely illusory.

What the Green politician Badum also fails to mention in her brief statement is that not only must immediate action be taken, enormous sums must also be raised. This is also stated in the current UN report: Between 2015 and 2050, an average of 900 billion US dollars per year will have to be invested in CO2 reduction in the energy sector worldwide. Some studies even consider 1.8 trillion dollars a year to be necessary.

Food restrictions are necessary

In addition, energy saving measures of 700 billion to one trillion dollars per year are necessary. The average annual expenditure on low-CO2 energy and energy efficiency must therefore increase by a factor of four to five, according to the report.

If this is applied to Germany, it seems unlikely that it would be possible to double, let alone quintuple, the local energy turnaround costs of currently 34 billion euros per year: The resistance of industry and small and medium-sized businesses to the highest electricity prices in Europe is already so strong that Germany’s federal policy is now concentrating more on cost stabilisation.

But it will probably not be able to remain there if the Federal Government wants to underlay the new goal with effective measures. The co-chairman of IPCC Working Group II, Hans-Otto Pörtner of the Alfred Wegener Institute, made it clear on Monday that in terms of global cost distribution “the contribution of the industrialised countries must of course be greater”.

If Green politicians consider the 1.5 degree target to be achievable, they should also explain how they intend to convert up to eight million square kilometres of pasture and agricultural land worldwide for energy crop cultivation without increasing food prices or even causing a shortage of food. This “fuel instead of food” necessity is also mentioned in the current UN report.

Similarly, veggie day appeals would probably have to be put back on the table: climate protection only works if people commit themselves to “less resource-intensive nutrition,” it says.

The 1.5-degree target also requires that an area the size of the USA be reserved worldwide for new forests. The UN authors themselves admit, however, that such programmes could also conflict regionally with the UN goals of combating poverty and hunger.

Michael Meister, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Science and Research (BMWF), also sees the IPCC report as evidence that genetically modified plants will be indispensable in the future. Politicians must open up “ideology-free access to new genetic engineering methods”, Meister explained on Monday in an initial reaction by the German government.

In contrast to genetic engineering, food production cannot be guaranteed in the case of frequent heat waves and regional water shortages, if at the same time enormous areas have to be dedicated to energy crop and forest cultivation.

The demand: “Hands off the Hambach Forest” [it is to be cleared for open-cast lignite mining, a current political dispute] distracts from more important issues.

It also remains unclear whether politicians will take action for underground CO2 depots in Germany after experiments with carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) led to storms of pubic outrage a few years ago.

Now the new 1.5 degree report demands that between 100 and 1000 gigatons of CO2 have to be pushed into the ground worldwide. Shouldn’t climate pioneer Germany take on a fair share here as well?

Full story (in German)