Why does the year 2030 figure in most climate conversations, goals & plans?

The year 2030 has figured in news, publications, goals and plans a lot in the past decade. I have been intrigued by this timeline. Why do most global and national goals, especially around climate and the environment, center around this timeline? 

I didn’t have answers until recently when I came across an article by Elliott Negin. In the article, Elliot captures his conversation with Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel who is a senior climate scientist and the director of climate science for the UCS Climate & Energy Program.

Before we go any further, we need to understand an agreement that came into force in 2016, called the Paris Agreement. What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France, on 12 December 2015. It entered into force on 4 November 2016.

Its overarching goal is to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” However, in recent years, world leaders have stressed the need to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of this century.

That’s because the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that crossing the 1.5°C threshold risks unleashing far more severe climate change impacts, including more frequent and severe droughts, heatwaves and rainfall. The Paris Agreement is a landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations together to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

Now, that you have understood the Paris Agreement, let’s understand the relevance of 2030 given this context. 

Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel explains,

“Based on complex interactions and timing, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated the relative chances for staying below 1.5°C Celsius given how much greenhouse gasses the world continues to emit. The more the world emits, the IPCC said, the lower the chance of meeting the desired temperature. For a decent chance (67% probability of meeting that average temperature target), we can set the emissions to a cumulative 420 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide. For a reasonable chance (50 % probability), to 580 gigatonnes. For a low chance (33 % probability), to 840 gigatonnes. Given the uncertainties associated with permafrost thawing and wetlands releasing carbon, methane and other non-carbon dioxide emissions, climate feedback responses to all emissions, and historic warming, most climate scientists recommend the most stringent carbon budget as the prudent choice.

So, let’s set the cumulative emissions budget dial to the prudent choice of 420 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide. If we assume the 2017 global emissions of around 42 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide continued, then we would have 10 more years before the average global temperature dial would be set to 1.5°C. The IPCC special report said this remaining budget starts on the first of January 2018, which means by the end of 2027 the world would have used up the 67 percent chance budget at that rate.”

Hence, to limit global warming to 1.5°C, greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030. Else, there will be irreversible damage to this planet's climate. That’s how 2030 figures in most goals and plans. 

Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel further adds,

“We already see how dangerous a 1°C warmer world of today is, where climate change has made extreme weather events much more severe. These events will only get worse with a 1.5°C increase. According to the IPCC special report on 1.5°C, 70 to 90 percent of warm water coral reefs would likely die, and, with a 2°C increase, food availability in southern and northern Africa, the Amazon, central Europe, and the Mediterranean would be further reduced. Also, with warming climates, the mosquito that transmits West Nile virus and the tick that transmits Lyme disease would trigger higher rates of infection in the Midwest.

While the govts. and corporations do what’s needed at scale, there’s a lot we as individuals can do with our own lifestyle that could add tremendous collective value to this 2030 vision. More on this for later.

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