The world is failing in its effort to avert catastrophic climate change, a United Nations panel warned on Monday, and the result will be more deaths and climate refugees due to extreme weather and rising seas, a greater rate of species extinction and reduced economic growth.

In a report released late on Sunday, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the global community still has a chance of limiting the average increase in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a goal sanctioned by the Paris climate agreement three years ago.

However, to do so would take an unprecedented political commitment to slash the use of coal, oil and natural gas, and to rapidly deploy technology that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, said the report produced by 90 scientists from around the world.

Countries are already seeing an increase in extreme weather and rising sea levels as a result of the increase in average global temperatures of one degree above pre-industrial levels that has already occurred, the IPCC study said. Under the 2015 Paris accord, countries agreed to limit the average temperature increase to well below two degrees, with a goal of no more than 1.5 degrees.

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5 C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Portner, a German scientist who co-chaired one of the panel’s working groups.

The half-a-degree difference would result in fewer people dying or being displaced from extreme heat or other severe weather, the IPCC report said. The limited temperature increase would result in the saving of at least some of the world’s coral reefs, a key ecosystem supporting global fisheries. It would cut in half the number of animals and plants that would lose habitats with the attendant risk of extinction.

Limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees would also have a dramatic impact on economic growth and development in poorer countries, which could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by several hundred million by 2050, it said. Currently, however, the world is on track to see between 2.7 and 3.4 degrees of warming, the IPCC has said.

The IPCC warning comes as the political battle around Canada’s climate-change policies heats up. On Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford joined Alberta’s United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney in Calgary for a rally against carbon taxes at the federal level and in Alberta.

Neither Premier Ford nor Mr. Kenney have yet said what policies they would employ to cut emissions, or whether they support Canada’s objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – a commitment made under the Paris accord.

However, they warn that the Liberal government’s approach will undermine Canada’s economic competitiveness and saddle consumers with higher costs. And they argue carbon pricing does little to reduce emissions – a view that has been challenged by leading environmental economists.

The IPPC report represents “sobering assessment of the challenge we face, and of the risks and costs of a warming planet,” Caroline Thériault, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said.

In addition to the carbon tax, the federal government is moving on a number of fronts, both at home and internationally – phasing out coal-fired power; investing in public transit; requiring cleaner fuels; and financing clean technology development.

At the same time, however, the Liberals are supporting major projects that will increase Canada’s capacity to export oil and gas for decades, including expansion of the Trans Mountain crude pipeline and construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal in Kitimat, B.C.

The IPCC report noted the world is rapidly losing any chance to limit average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, although there is still a theoretical chance if the political will existed. To get there, emissions would have to be cut by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, with further action required by 2050.

Virtually every path to hold the increase to 1.5 or two degrees includes strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere either through reforestation or through technology that captures carbon dioxide and stores it underground or uses it in industrial processes. Several companies in Canada specialize in capturing carbon dioxide from industrial emissions. One startup, Carbon Engineering Ltd. of Squamish, B.C., removes it directly from the air and uses it to produce biofuels.

The Globe and Mail, October 8, 2018