Has the UN Special Report into 1.5C been leaked? #SR15

Regarding the “leak” of the UN Special Report into 1.5C, er no, it is not really a leak.

Various media outlets have published an article regarding this “Leaked” copy of the UN’s special report into limiting global warming to 1.5C. This is officially supposed to be issued later this year and hence a review draft has been supposedly “leaked”. For example …

Both stories identify a Reuters as the folks who obtained the “leaked” copy.

What does Reuters Reveal?

Basically that by about 2040 we will have breached the 1.5C limit unless we make very rapid and far-reaching changes now …

“If emissions continue at their present rate, human-induced warming will exceed 1.5°C by around 2040,” according to the report, which broadly reaffirms findings in an earlier draft in January but is more robust, after 25,000 comments from experts and a wider pool of scientific literature.

The Paris climate agreement, adopted by almost 200 nations in 2015, set a goal of limiting warming to “well below” a rise of 2°C above pre-industrial times while “pursuing efforts” for the tougher 1.5° goal.

The deal has been weakened after U.S. President Donald Trump decided last year to pull out and promote U.S. fossil fuels. 

Temperatures are already up about 1°C (1.8°F) and are rising at a rate of about 0.2°C a decade, according to the draft, requested by world leaders as part of the Paris Agreement.

Is this really a “leak”?

The entire UN process is wholly transparent and open. An outline of the report has already been published. You can find all the details here.

For anybody who cared to do so, it was possible to signup, participate, and read it yourself. Here for example is a copy of the first order draft that was available for most of this year. The latest version, the second order draft is now out for expert and government review. There was a registration process, now closed.

I find it a tad weird to describe a document from a transparent process that permits interested people to signup and review as “leaked”.

There is an official statement

Basically they explain that it is still a work in progress and is still subject to change, hence now is not yet the time to comment upon the content …

GENEVA, June 14 – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that news articles have appeared citing the final draft of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC.

The IPCC has recently circulated the Final Draft of the report to governments, with a request for comments on the Summary for Policymakers. The full title is Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

The IPCC is committed to an open, robust and transparent assessment process. During the review stages, the IPCC actively seeks the collaboration of researchers and practitioners across a broad range of expertise to provide expert comments on the draft reports. As with the normal practice of peer review, this process is designed to ensure that the report is as accurate, comprehensive and objective as possible.

The report undergoes revisions between the first and second order draft, and between the second order draft and the final draft. This is in response to thousands of review comments and also because the authors have assessed new literature that has been accepted for publication since the previous draft and before the final cut-off date.

Draft reports are provided to governments and reviewers as confidential working documents and must not be publicly distributed, quoted or cited. This is out of respect for the authors and to give them the time and space to finish writing before making the work public.


Officially, you will need to wait until later in the year (17-20 Oct) to read the finalised version once all the latest updates and the literally thousands of review comments have been processed.

OK, so I know you want to know, and can’t wait.

Because it is a working draft that is still subject to change, I’ll not cite it directly, but will instead give you an idea of what it tells us. If you don’t like spoilers, then look away now. The essence it is this …

  • There is a very high risk that Global warming will exceed 1.5C (we are already at 1 C)
    • Even if we did suddenly eliminate rather of lot of CO2 emissions, and managed to constrain global warming to just 1.5C, we still face extreme events over both oceans and also land. One example of this is the observation that at 2 C or even 1.5C sea level will continue to rise each and every year for centuries.
    • They make the observation that we will reach 1.5C of warming by the 2040s. The basis for this is the observation that the warming trend globally sees an increase of 0.17 C per decade.
    • Delaying meaningful action now will make it a lot harder to address further down the road.
  • Avoiding substantial warming is possible
    • It would require rapid and deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Impacts of 1.5C
    • Some impacts are irreversible, for example the mortality of species or ecosystems, hence even brief periods of overshooting the 1.5C limit can lead to such impacts.
    • Distilling it all … heatwaves, more intense storms and more frequent storms, floods, droughts. There is also a greater risk in the Arctic because the warming there is greater than the average.
    • Global warming in the oceans will change the basic chemistry of the oceans – acidification will impact biological ecosystems. Fisheries and aquaculture will be impacted.

… so you will need to wait until Oct before reading all that.

If you simply could not have waited, then you could simply have registered and participated in the process. Then again, if you are familiar with the topic, then none of the above will have been a surprise.


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