The IPCC, Climate Science and Climate Policy

Understanding of the climate phenomenon is based on solid physical and hydro-meteorological science. This solid scientific basis in turn informs the policy and governance responses to climate change. In practice, climate science has been provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which collects the best available science from individual scientists working in a broad spectrum of environments across the globe and across the various climate disciplines.  The IPCC Assessments have become the basis for climate policy at global and local levels. Global and national climate policies are geared towards mitigating climate change while at the same time adapting to the impacts of changes that are already occurring. This entails integrating climate change into development and sectoral policies. However, development processes invariably impact on the mitigation response by emitting GHGs, or by refocussing technologies to wards less carbon intensive production, manufacturing and distribution technologies. As a consequence of the significance of carbon emissions to the development processes, it has become imperative to calculate correctly the amounts of carbon that can still be safely absorbed in the atmosphere, and to allocate this carbon equitably in order to support sustainable development processes. Thus a key aspect of the IPCC climate science is the estimation of the ‘carbon budget’ UNEP 2010. The Emissions Gap Report.


An outcome of the Copenhagen COP was global agreement on the emissions reductions required in order to control global temperature increases within the 1.50C or 20C limits.  The Copenhagen accords required significant emissions reductions in order to stay within these limits. Several countries have made commitments to reduce their commitments and there climate scientists have responded by modelling different scenarios to demonstrate the probabilities of staying within the desirable limits with the pledges that have so far been put forward. This represents the level of global ambition to control global warming. Going forward to Paris, the emphasis of national commitments to reduce emissions is encapsulated in Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to emissions reductions which all parties are to compile and submit by the 15th of October. But questions remain about the best possible mechanisms to achieve the goal of controlling global warming, the implications of 1.5oc and 20c for development and livelihoods in Africa, and about the extent to which INDCs not only represents a shift in the interpretations of CBRD, but also the extent to which the INDC is the appropriate mechanism to regulate emissions.


In the lead up to Paris 2015, UNFCCC Parties are discussing ways to increase the level of mitigation ambition in the pre-2020 period, (2015-2020) with a view to ensuring the highest possible mitigation efforts by all parties.  The aim is to close the ambition gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ current mitigation pledges and an aggregate pathway consistent with maintaining a likely chance of holding the increase in global warming below 2C or 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Major issues in the negotiations include concerns about low levels of mitigation ambition in developed countries’ pre-2020 pledges (lower than developing countries); low levels of finance, technology and capacity building to enable mitigation actions by developing countries  (no roadmap for finance to 2020); inadequate progress in implementing concrete mitigation actions to curb warming; and efforts to shift responsibilities away from developed countries under the Convention towards international cooperative initiatives and the private sector.


Many scientists are debating the different emission pathways that can be adopted in order to meet the temperature increase limits. It is thus important to have an African debate on the carbon gap, the carbon budget and its relationship to Africa’s sustainable development requirements. This debate will also be linked to the INDCs as a response mechanism, and the nature of technological support and other means of implementation required for Africa to meet its development needs while at the same time mitigating carbon emissions. This session will discuss the IPCC Physical Science with respect to Africa and COP 21, focusing in particular on determining what the acceptable temperature increases for Africa are, how these can be achieved and Africa’s role in those scenarios. Within this context, debate will also focus on what does the carbon budget mean for Africa? How best can this be allocated in order to allow for Africa to develop equitably and sustainably? How should the carbon budget be incorporated in the post 2015 agreement?