Unpacking Positives: International Panel on Climate Change Special Report 1.5 Degrees by Prof Kevin Anderson

This is an audio recording of the talk which Prof Kevin Anderson gave at the University of Edinburgh on the 30th October 2018.  He is the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. In it you can hear Prof Anderson discuss the implications of the recent United Nations IPCC climate report and Scotland’s responsibility in tackling climate change.


For those who missed it, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a body of the United Nations (an intergovernmental organization made up of 193 countries) released a special report:


The impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty




The importance of this is obvious because of the effects on a global scale.  Global warming brought about by the over use of fossil fuels and release of CO2 along with other greenhouse gases is causing the polar ice caps to melt resulting in sea level rises.


This has knock on effects of flooding low level land, such as Bangladesh, causing death and misery to those populations and causing huge migration of peoples.  Climate change means that the extremes are getting more extreme; colder cold periods, hotter heats, more powerful winds. We are seeing California go up in flames and crop failures happen due to droughts.


Houses and infrastructure in places are not designed for the changes in weather extremes causing breakdown and fracture – for example frozen pipes.  Extreme storms are occurring in places which never experienced them before.


The Internation Panel on Climate Change is really important to listen to.  It is vital to take on board these messages, if not for the people who live as adults now, for the generations – the children, grand children and future generations who will be paying the price for wasteful use of resources.



What follows are verbatim notes taken from the talk by Prof Kevin Anderson for those who want to study deeper and learn the facts


Prof Kevin Anderson

Nebulous arm waving is what we have actually done for 28 years on climate change and it has got us nowhere, so I have called this ‘Climate’s Holy Trinity: Cogency, Tenacity and Courage


Thought experiment: Imagine climate change was a serious existential threat; imagine if any of us really thought that climate change was serious, and then imagine that we had regulations which forced the top ten percent of emitters to reduce their carbon footprint to the average European level.


Is that too much to ask ? Just the ten percent. And the other 90 percent do nothing and carry on as normal. Do you have any idea what the reduction in global emissions would be ?


The answer is one third


So only 10 percent reduce their emissions to the average European – not the average Guanan – and that is a one third cut in global emissions. It is based on the Chancel and Piketty report of 2015 teasing that out from their analysis.


Carbon and inequality
Click to Download: ‘Carbon and Inequality: from Kyoto to Paris Trends in the global inequality of carbon emissions (1998-2013) & prospects for an equitable adaptation fund’ by Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty


Equity is absolutely central, pivotal issue which comes out of the maths of how we respond to climate change. The taboo issue is the huge asymmetric distribution of wealth which underpins the international community’s failure to tackle climate change. Now it sounds like a socialist agenda but I think you can show that by the maths. And only when we acknowledge these inequalities will thinking on climate change be sufficiently mature to transition from incrementalism to system change. All we have had so far is incrementalism at best.


And that is my provocation: The rapidly dwindling 1.5 and 2 degree centigrade carbon budgets aligned with emission responsibilities embed equity at the heart of any real mitigation agenda.


The taboo issue of the huge asymmetric distribution of wealth underpins the international community’s failure to seriously tackle climate change


That is the world which dominates at the moment. It dominates climate change and pretty much everything else. This is sort of view of the Davos fraternity, the morally bereft; the way forward is steady as she goes, we are fine, doing just fine. It maintains the dominant economic paradigm and continues to drive power and resources to the privileged few.


Sapiro Davos Community


It is particularly relevant to austerity; I never saw austerity, neither did any professor, only poor people saw austerity. On climate the Davos paradigm is legitimised by a whole streak of what I refer to pejoratively as the ‘climate glitterati’.



These people have carbon footprints the size of very large African towns, if not small states, and they tell the rest of us to reduce our emissions. They are supported by a cadre of senior climate academics who get their kudos from rubbing shoulders with this group and occasionally get invited to talk to them. And this lot support promoting offsetting, negative emissions, geo-engineering, CCS, green growth, etc


Now there is good work being done on these things; now this is what we are going to use to respond to the challenges. I don’t mean the PDRA’s, the post doc’s, the lecturers. This is generally the very senior, grey haired – often men but not always – professors who have said nothing interesting in the last ten years.


It is all about incremental evolution within the system. We must not question the system. And that is, I would argue, why we have responded to climate change completely inadequately.


So let’s put some flesh on the bones of this provocation. And I start off with a climate message from the Pope. If anyone wants to get a book which captures climate change really well I would recommend the Pope’s Encyclical


Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home
Click to Download: ‘Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home’ by the Pope


I am not a Catholic and you can miss out the spiritual stuff if you want but it actually captures a lot of the really important issues about climate change in the Encyclical; it is really well advised and he seems to be quite a good writer.


Message from the Pope: “…the alliance of technology and economics ends up side lining anything unrelated to its immediate interests…Whereas any genuine attempt to introduce real change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions”


And we so often hear that – “that’s not realistic”, “you can’t do that”, “that will never work” – so that is the sort of language which we always hear that closes down debate when we want to open up a box which is too challenging to the system.


So what is the international agenda on climate change ? You are all aware of the Paris Agreement and what we promised to do to take action, not just to talk about it to hold to well below 2 degrees centigrade and ideally below 1.5; to do so in accordance with the best science which I argue will be more than a carbon budget framework.


And as I was saying in Holyrood this afternoon on the basis of equity no country in the world is taking any notice of the equity issue, not in the wealthy countries. It is just lip service, we never think about equity issues.


Let’s talk about the 1.5 report…

For me there are two explicit and headline conclusions from it and implicit messages. I am not pleased that we have a 1.5 degrees centigrade report; in some ways it is a good thing to have but I am not sure about how we have spent all this time pretending we can hit 1.5. But I think there are some merits to it.


So the two headline conclusions

The first is the impacts at 2 degrees centigrade are notably worse than those at 1.5 degrees centigrade. That was not a great revelation but it was interesting to see the work brought together to see the difference between what is the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees centigrade other than half a degree.


There are significant sets of impacts which we can tease out from the science:

  • Significantly higher ecosystem impacts across the board
  • Significantly higher risk of additional feedbacks
  • Around half a billion more people seriously impacted


And I never quite know how they do this, but that makes it about 420 million – a bit too precise for my liking – but that is half a billion additional people seriously affected by climate change if you look at 2 degrees centigrade rather than 1.5 degrees. That is quite a significant population. That is more than the population of the EU, more than the population of the US. So a large number of people.


Map of Eu


The second headline that I think is important is that they made this comment “Planetary scale negative emissions are a pre-requisite of holding emissions to 1.5 degrees centigrade”


So all the scenarios they considered have some form of negative emissions. Whether that is aforestation, which I think is problematic, or reforestation, which is less problematic, or lots and lots of negative emissions technologies.


And what is also important there is that if you look at the scenarios they all go on well beyond the end of the century which I think we have to bear in mind. Almost all the scenarios end up cutting off at 2100.


We will be relying on the people in the next century; your kids will be having to deal with this, sucking our CO2 out of the air. The CO2 we produce today, they will be having to suck out of the air next century.


The other sort of implicit headline that I have found really disturbing and not surprising is that when we look at Sustainability Development Goal number 8, what a surprise. The IPCC economists claim few trade off’s and strong synergies between hitting 1.5 and economic growth.


I wrote a response to the 1.5 degree report which you can read on the Manchester University website, and this quote from it captures my view:

“The IPCC report meticulously lays out how the serious climate impacts of 1.5 degrees centigrade of warming are still far less destructive than those for 2 degress centigrade. Sadly, the IPCC then fails, again, to address the profound implications of reducing emissions in line with both 1.5 and 2 degrees centigrade. Dress it up however we may wish, climate change is ultimately a rationing issue.”



And that is what it is. We have a certain budget to spend and one person spends more and one person spends less; it is a rationing issue. You dont like the language but tough, we should have done something about it along time ago.

Ration book


I would argue that ignoring the huge inequality of emissions which the IPCC chooses to restrain its policy advice to again fit neatly within the current economic model. How can we make the Paris 1.5 degrees centigrade fit with Davos because we say its all got synergies with economic growth.


So it is not a great position to start with I think but then, that is my upbeat interpretation of the 1.5 degrees centigrade report.