BLOG | A +1.5 C world and adaptation in the global hot spots

By Ian Burton, Emeritus Professor, University of Toronto

Science and Policy Advisory Committee Member, CARIAA


Lead researchers within the CARIAA program understood the importance of their research within climate change hot spots and are working to contribute their findings for the IPCC Special Report on the implications of a +1.5 C increase.

CARIAA members participated in a meeting organized in Oxford in September to share ideas among the research community about the request (contained in the Paris Agreement of December 2015) to IPCC to prepare a Special Report on the aspirational target of keeping global mean temperature below +1.5 C. It was a non-governmental conference and thus not subject to the IPCC constraints of being “policy relevant and not policy prescriptive”. Under these circumstances many policy prescriptions and proposals were made. The request presents an opportunity for the research community to report on their current work in a form appropriate to IPCC which requires among other things, publication in peer reviewed journals.

The topic of the “implications of a +1.5 C increase” lends itself to the dichotomy written into the Framework Convention as mitigation and adaptation. In the first decade of the Convention (1995 – 2005) the emphasis globally and nationally was heavily weighted on the mitigation side.

In the second decade or so (2005 – 2015), we have seen a steady rise in the recognition and importance of adaptation. This has been manifested many ways including an expansion of funding for adaptation research especially in developing countries. CARIAA is a prime example of this advance in adaptation work.

My dominant impression of the Oxford conference was that it attracted far more people and presentations on the subject of mitigation and how to reduce emissions (including negative emissions) in order to achieve the 1.5 C target. The conference was remarkable in its sense of optimism about the prospects of limiting the increase to +1.5 C. This optimism was based in large part upon confidence in the technological possibilities and not so much on a realistic appraisal of the political will or the likelihood that the Paris Agreement will actually be implemented. There was only a small minority that spoke about adaptation. This is unfortunate because even at a 1.5 C increase there will be some very severe impacts, especially in the type of “hot spots” being studied in CARIAA. I see a great opportunity for the CARIAA consortia to contribute research results showing the impacts even with an achievement of 1.5 C. There is a considerable need for adaptation. The consortia may also be able to show that there is insufficient adaptation to the presently changing climate and that the hot spots are vulnerable to today’s ongoing changes.