The approval and launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5°C warming will happen on October 8, 2018 in Incheon, Korea. The report highlights the moment of truth in the fight against climate change to come. A delegation from Greenpeace is currently attending the UN gathering as official observers and will have a team of experts available for comment, once the IPCC report is released next week, October 8th. For South Africa in particular, Greenpeace Africa has consolidated this information pack on why the IPCC special report on 1.5°C is relevant for South Africa, particularly in light of a year marked by demands to end fossil fuels amid successive extreme weather disasters. We hope that the South African government will act now to avoid climate catastrophe. The IPCC report must turn climate outrage into action and hope for South Africa.

What is this report about?

This is a report that governments ordered from the world’s top scientists, as part of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Governments were asking the IPCC what they need to do now, to meet the global goal they set in the Paris Agreement. And the report is the response from scientists providing them with the answers. The report is expected to provide guidance for achieving the Paris Agreement goals, ultimately requiring countries to fundamentally improve their national emission reduction goals, so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), by 2020.

What is the IPCC?

The IPCC stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is a scientific organisation, with 195 countries as its members, established to provide a scientific basis for policymaking for governments at all levels. It doesn’t do its own research but conducts scientific assessments of existing, published science.

What do we know about the impacts of 1.5°C?

All planetary alarms are already on red, with “just” 1°C of warming above pre-industrial levels: Both poles are melting at an incredible rate, temperature records are being broken around the world, apocalyptic wildfires are raging in scales not seen before, half of the Great Barrier Reef corals died in just two years, and the list goes on.

The heatwave being experienced in Europe this summer is not something that was expected with just 1°C of warming, reminded Johan Rocström, as this team of team of leading climate scientists recently published a high-profile article on approaching tipping points. According to them, a point of no return could be closer than we think, after which no amount of emission cuts would matter anymore, as the domino effect of climate events would trigger one another, taking us irreversibly into a “hothouse” state. The article came out too recently to be included in the IPCC 1.5°C report but provides good pre-reading on why we should do everything we can to prevent any further warming beyond current levels.

Even 1.5°C could result in irreversible dynamics such as a destabilising Greenland and Antarctic ice shields, the destruction of  90% of warm water corals, severe problems for marine life, the Arctic and vulnerable countries/population.

How can the World achieve 1.5°C?

IPCC has looked into 90 different 1.5°C-compatible pathways that were submitted in their database. And based on all those, they’ve drawn some summary conclusions. The Low energy Demand scenario (LED, Grubler et al 2018) is one of four scenarios that are highlighted as pathway archetypes. The scenario shows how to meet the 1.5°C target, without speculative and dangerous negative emission technologies (geoengineering).

Key results

  • The world needs to halve global emissions by 2030 and to reach global net zero CO2emissions latest by 2050.
  • At the moment with current NDC we are globally on a track to double emissions by 2030
  • Following reductions in global primary energy use are needed until 2030:
  • Oil use: -50%
  • Coal use: -67%
  • Gas use: -33%

Why is the report relevant to South Africa?

As one of the most impacted countries by climate change, South Africans must have a pronounced interest in meeting 1.5°C. For the country it is a question of survival as Global warming will hit the country double as hard as the average. A global average temperature increase of 2°C translates to up to 4°C for South Africa by the end of the century (South African Government 2015).

Along with other developing countries, South Africa is especially vulnerable to its impacts, particularly in respect of water and food security, as well as impacts on health, human settlements, and infrastructure and ecosystem services.  South Africa recently faced one of the most serious droughts and water crises in its history at the beginning of 2018 as the city of Cape Town approached “Day Zero”, or the day it would run out of water. The government declared the water crisis a national disaster from February to June 2018. Research has indicated that climate change tripled the likelihood of the drought that pushed Cape Town to the brink of ‘Day Zero’ earlier this year. But the water crisis is not over, “Day Zero” is currently expected to arrive for Cape Town in August 2019 and many water restrictions are still in place. Millions of South Africans are also still dealing with water scarcity on a daily basis. Climate change will increase the incidences of droughts worldwide and a rise in global average temperature of 2°C would lead to dire consequences for already struggling South Africa in particular.

Increased droughts

The Department of Environmental Affairs has said the following about the likelihood of increased droughts: “Direct impacts such as reduced income and labour productivity (due to heat) in rural communities as a result of negative climate change impacts on agricultural output can be expected. Without adaptation, increased heat is expected to decrease plant yields in addition to negatively affecting livestock. For example, with a 2°C increase in temperature and a 10% reduction in rainfall, the maize yield for South Africa is expected to reduce by 0.5 t/h (DEA, 2013). The knock-on effects will put an additional strain to provide services and promote social and economic development for local government.“

“In Ethiopia, rainfall was reduced 16% in the 2015-2016 period and in the same period rainfalls reduced 24% in South Africa, according to a 2016 study by the American Meteorological Society.”

Increase of diseases

“Along with threats to food and water resources, climate change also provides a suitable environment for the spread of malaria. In South Africa, the number of malaria cases has risen by nearly 3,000 from 2016, with 9,478 reported cases in 2017, according to a report from the National Center for Communicable Diseases.”

Economic Damages

“The World Bank also estimated that the impacts of climate change could further cripple Africa’s economy. If temperatures rise even 2°C, the continent’s per capita consumption would decrease 4-5%.”

Effect of warming waters on fisheries: “The fisheries sector in South Africa is worth around six to seven billion rands per annum and directly employs, in the commercial sector, some 27 000 people. Many thousands more people depend on fisheries resources for food and as a source of income to meet basic needs” (Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries). Warming waters are expected to harm highly temperature sensitive fish populations and their coral reef habitats.

What has to happen in South Africa to support a global 1.5°C goal?

Limiting warming to 1.5°C would require much higher ambition to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) by South Africa and other countries. Globally we need to meet net zero CO2 emissions latest by 2050 and have to halve current emission levels by 2030 (LED scenario). The existing National Determined Contributions (NDC) by South Africa clearly overshoots here (as from most of the countries). Current global targets (NDC) lead to double the emissions by 2030. This also means that the latest draft of the IRP 2018, the national electricity plan, needs to be revised and aim for significantly higher CO2 emissions reductions and a faster coal phase-out in a just transition.

Key results and main conclusions of the 1.5°C report?

  • This has become the moment of truth when the question of whether we limit warming to 1.5°C has become a political choice. The road ahead will be challenging, but eventually easier than the one we’re currently on. We can still achieve the Paris goals through transformational change and immediate action.
  • We are already experiencing massive climate impacts with just one degree of warming; every tenth of degree more will worsen those problems, putting the survival of many countries and people at risk. A temperature increase above 1.5°C catapults us further into the danger zone, with unpredictable impacts and, most likely, irreversible damage to our climate.
  • As one of the most impacted countries by climate change, South Africans must have a pronounced interest in meeting 1.5°C. For this country, it is a question of survival as climate change hits it double as hard than the average of countries.
  • To meet 1.5°C we globally need net zero CO2 emissions latest by 2050 and have to halve current emission levels by 2030. Coal needs to go down by two thirds until 2030. With current targets (NDC), the World would double emissions by 2030. The goal to stabilise warming below 2°C would require almost the same actions, but with a higher probability to achieve the goal (80%).
  • South Africa needs to increase its ambition to reduce CO2 emissions significantly and to radically shift away from fossil fuels like coal. By 2050 the whole electricity supply has to be decarbonized/ based on renewable energy. The earlier we start, the easier.
  • An urgent transformation in the energy sector to 100% renewable energy is needed but not enough. We must also protect and restore our forests, defend our oceans and transform our agriculture away from industrial livestock production as well.
  • Through reforestation, as well as protection and restoration of forests, other lands and coastal marine ecosystems, we can achieve those so-called negative emissions too – in other words, remove carbon from the atmosphere.  Greenpeace does not support geoengineering. These highly speculative technologies fail to address the root causes and are a dangerous distraction that will only make our problems worse.

For media, enquiries contact Oliver Meth, Greenpeace Africa Communications Specialist on 060 604 6690 or email [email protected]

For interviews contact Greenpeace Africa Senior Political Advisor, Happy Khambule on +27 (0) 64 753 3442 and or Climate & Energy Campaigner Andree Boehling on +27 (0)82 614 2676