Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

  • 23 September 2019

Oxford scientist contributes to landmark report for United Nations Climate Action Summit

United in Science

There are large and growing gaps between agreed targets to halt global warming and the actions being taken to implement them, reveals new report from the World Meteorological Organisation and leading climate science organisations.

From 23 September 2019, world leaders will gather at the UN headquarters in New York, bringing with them ambitious new plans for national reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the UN Climate Action Summit, the global community will discuss options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and meet targets to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

To inform the talks, the summit's Science Advisory Group compiled the United in Science report, which synthesises the latest scientific understanding of the climate crisis and highlights the stark and growing gap between the realities of climate change and current global policy. Dr Lisa Schipper, Research Fellow at the Environmental Change Institute, contributed to the report as a member of the advisory group.

The report found that while the last five years were the warmest on record, with sea-ice and glaciers melting are record rates, fossil CO2 emissions continued to grow by 2% annually and reached a record high of 37 billion tonnes in 2018. Despite a remarkable growth in renewable fuels over the past decade, the global energy system is still dominated by fossil fuels and there is still no sign of a peak in global emissions.

The impacts of a rapidly changing planet are already being felt, with climate variability and extreme weather driving recent rises in global hunger and food insecurity, and heatwaves affecting millions more people around the world.

Dr Schipper said: "The scientific knowledge on climate change and national and international policy on climate change are incommensurate. The UN Climate Action Summit acknowledges this and is attempting to step up commitments, which will hopefully also lead to requisite action. If not, we cannot assure sustainable, equitable or socially just outcomes."

The report also highlights the clear benefits to keeping warming to 1.5 °s;C compared to 2 °s;C or higher and urges countries to take immediate, all-inclusive action to reduce national emissions, from deep de-carbonization to ambitious policy measures, protection and enhancement of carbon sinks and biodiversity, and efforts to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Dr Schipper said: "Natural and social science on climate change needs to be integrated to give a complete picture of the situation. Climate models can identify that climate is changing, but only by applying knowledge of the human dimensions – social, economic and political drivers of vulnerability to climate change and the development context – can we identify sustainable solutions."

Read the full report here.

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