The United Nations climate agency launched an effort this week to marshal support for strict new targets under the Paris climate change accord, including in the United States.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change kicked off the weeklong discussions on Monday in South Korea with signatories to the Paris Agreement. But Tuesday is when the real heavy-lifting begins, as countries begin to dig into the findings of a new report the IPCC released on meeting a more aggressive global warming target only contemplated under the Paris accord.
The U.N. panel, which convenes Oct. 1-5 , wants the report to inform how countries that signed on to the Paris accord can prevent the Earth from warming 1.5 degrees Celsius and the effects that warming would have on the globe. The meeting is meant to help inform the development of the "Policymakers Summary," which will digest the report into policy recommendations that could be hard for some countries to swallow.
Of course, President Trump announced his intent last year to exit from the 2015 Paris deal. But since the U.S. cannot technically remove itself from the accord until 2020, and remains a party to the IPCC, it is likely that the administration will be asked to respond to the report's findings once the summary is released.
A draft of the "Policymakers Summary" obtained by AFP calls for arresting the growth of global emissions in less than two years, which would likely put enormous strain on the economy by transitioning rapidly from fossil fuels. It calls for emitting no more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2050.
Greenpeace activists demonstrated outside the meeting, calling for an end to coal use. Supporting coal mining and fossil fuel exports is a key part of the Trump energy agenda.
The policy recommendations from the report could also stir up debate going into the midterm elections in November on what voters think about Trump's decision.
"I understand there are some climate change skeptics out there, but let me tell you this: Truth is truth. Climate change cannot be denied," said Republic of Korea Environment Minister Kim Eunkyung on the sidelines of the meeting.
Hoesung Lee, the chairman of the U.N. climate panel, explained that when the Paris Agreement was signed, it was done so by countries who knew "relatively little" about the risks that would be avoided by keeping the Earth's temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels. The Paris accord set out the broad goal of avoiding a global temperature rise of 2 degrees.
The global average temperature in 2017 was nearly 1.1 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
"Unfortunately, we are already well on the way to the 1.5-degrees-Celsius limit and the sustained warming trend shows no sign of relenting," said Elena Manaenkova, the WMO's deputy secretary-general. "The past two decades included 18 of the warmest years since records began in 1850.”
The Paris agreement leaves open the option of making the goal to not go above a 1.5-degrees mark. This week's session hopes to develop what policymakers need to know about the effects of global warming at 1.5 degrees, compared to 2 degrees.
Lee explained that the heat-wave, wildfire, and heavy-rainfall events experienced in recent months make the report more timely than ever.
"Science alerts us to the gravity of the situation, but science also, and this special report in particular, helps us understand the solutions available to us," he said.