image of tree in desert

Climate ambition of 1.5°C demands urgent legal and accounting work

Legal experts are calling for greater efforts from decision-makers to ensure laws and accounting methods keep pace with global efforts to achieve the increased ambition of the 1.5°C climate change threshold.

A key report released today from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows how the international community can limit global average temperature rises to 1.5°C to avoid irreversible climate change.

The report confirms that urgent action will be needed, given world governments are “nowhere near on track” to avoid breaking through international carbon budgets.

Report authors also stress that controversial negative emissions technologies will be needed to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Responding to the report, ClientEarth lawyer Jonathan Church said: “For the first time we have a clear picture that limiting warming to 1.5°C target is theoretically feasible. Achieving this target – fundamental to protecting communities, the environment and our economies – requires, first and foremost, drastic reductions in global carbon emissions.

“The report also finds that to meet this target, negative emissions technologies will need to be developed and implemented alongside very rapid reductions in emissions.

“Negative emissions technologies carry significant risks for communities and the natural world that are not yet fully understood and these risks will need to be very carefully managed. Lawmakers need to urgently consider how their impacts will be managed, and to develop and put in place a robust accounting framework that can properly monitor global reductions.

“We must also guard against the risk of moral hazard: the dangerous temptation to believe that emissions reductions may not be so urgent. We must always be clear that whatever comes of negative emissions technologies, cutting emissions – cheaper, easier and better understood – is more essential than ever.

“Right now, more research is needed to better understand these technologies before we can be confident to deploy them, particularly carbon capture and storage (CCS). There are also significant concerns regarding burning biomass, in terms of carbon emissions, deforestation, accounting and land use. The best proven negative emissions technology is trees, so urgently halting and reversing deforestation must be integral to climate action.

“Overall, this report does not change the basic picture: We need to do more of what we know works now by rapidly cutting emissions and stepping up action to protect and restore forests and ecosystems. Banking on the success of artificial solutions when we do not know whether they will deliver positive results is madness when the future of people and the planet are at stake.”

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Ryan Cheng