Summary: In order to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the world would need to transform in a number of complex and connected ways. While transitions towards lower greenhouse gas emissions are underway in some cities, regions, countries, businesses and communities, there are few that are currently consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Meeting this challenge would require a rapid escalation in the current scale and pace of change, particularly in the coming decades. There are many factors that affect the feasibility of different adaptation and mitigation options that could help limit warming to 1.5°C and with adapting to the consequences.
There are actions across all sectors that can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This Special Report assesses energy, land and ecosystems, urban and infrastructure, and industry in developed and developing nations to see how they would need to be transformed to limit warming to 1.5°C. Examples of actions include shifting to low- or zero-emission power generation, such as renewables; changing food systems, such as diet changes away from land-intensive animal products; electrifying transport and developing ‘green infrastructure’, such as building green roofs, or improving energy efficiency by smart urban planning, which will change the layout of many cities.
Because these different actions are connected, a ‘whole systems’ approach would be needed for the type of transformations that could limit warming to 1.5°C. This means that all relevant companies, industries and stakeholders would need to be involved to increase the support and chance of successful implementation. As an illustration, the deployment of low-emission technology (e.g., renewable energy projects or a bio-based chemical plants) would depend upon economic conditions (e.g., employment generation or capacity to mobilize investment), but also on social/cultural conditions (e.g., awareness and acceptability) and institutional conditions (e.g., political support and understanding).
To limit warming to1.5°C, mitigation would have to be large-scale and rapid. Transitions can be transformative or incremental, and they often, but not always, go hand in hand. Transformative change can arise from growth in demand for a new product or market, such that it displaces an existing one. This is sometimes called ‘disruptive innovation’. For example, high demand for LED lighting is now making more energy-intensive, incandescent lighting near-obsolete, with the support of policy action that spurred rapid industry innovation. Similarly, smart phones have become global in use within ten years. But electric cars, which were released around the same time, have not been adopted so quickly because the bigger, more connected transport and energy systems are harder to change. Renewable energy, especially solar and wind, is considered to be disruptive by some as it is rapidly being adopted and is transitioning faster than predicted. But its demand is not yet uniform. Urban systems that are moving towards transformation are coupling solar and wind with battery storage and electric vehicles in a more incremental transition, though this would still require changes in regulations, tax incentives, new standards, demonstration projects and education programmes to enable markets for this system to work.
Transitional changes are already underway in many systems, but limiting warming to 1.5°C would require a rapid escalation in the scale and pace of transition, particularly in the next 10–20 years. While limiting warming to 1.5°C would involve many of the same types of transitions as limiting warming to 2°C, the pace of change would need to be much faster. While the pace of change that would be required to limit warming to 1.5°C can be found in the past, there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions, in particular in a socially and economically sustainable way. Resolving such speed and scale issues would require people’s support, public-sector interventions and private-sector cooperation.
Different types of transitions carry with them different associated costs and requirements for institutional or governmental support. Some are also easier to scale up than others, and some need more government support than others. Transitions between, and within, these systems are connected and none would be sufficient on its own to limit warming to 1.5°C.
The ‘feasibility’ of adaptation and mitigation options or actions within each system that together can limit warming to 1.5°C within the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty requires careful consideration of multiple different factors. These factors include: (i) whether sufficient natural systems and resources are available to support the various options for transitioning (known as environmental feasibility); (ii) the degree to which the required technologies are developed and available (known as technological feasibility); (iii) the economic conditions and implications (known as economic feasibility); (iv) what are the implications for human behaviour and health (known as social/cultural feasibility); and (v) what type of institutional support would be needed, such as governance, institutional capacity and political support (known as institutional feasibility). An additional factor (vi – known as the geophysical feasibility) addresses the capacity of physical systems to carry the option, for example, whether it is geophysically possible to implement large-scale afforestation consistent with 1.5°C.
Promoting enabling conditions, such as finance, innovation and behaviour change, would reduce barriers to the options, make the required speed and scale of the system transitions more likely, and therefore would increase the overall feasibility limiting warming to 1.5°C.