Realities of Hope: 1.5-2C Global Temperature Rise is within Striking Distance—But INDC Pledges are not Enough

CAT_thermometer_151001_300dpiSince the COP21 Opening Ceremony, various Parties have expressed a priority of curbing global temperature rise to below 2C. Many Parties, particularly LDCs and notably French President Hollande, advocate for a more ambitious 1.5C temperature increase. While the Opening Ceremony was full of hopeful statements—UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, for example, described COP21 as a “beacon of hope for the world, lighting the way toward the betterment of humanity”—it is unclear whether the Parties will actually agree to maintaining the 2C increase, and even then what the cost will be for a less ambitious mitigation effort.

Leading up to COP21, 184 countries submitted 154 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These pledges account for around 94% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 2010. Yet, some sources say these pledges would be insufficient to limit warning to 2C or below. Instead, the INDCs might allow a 2.7—3.5C increase above pre-industrial levels.

The consequences of these varying temperature ranges appear to be quite devastating. Even the 2C benchmark typically considered a “safe” increase may be on the cusp of “dangerous” and “extremely” dangerous. The International Cryosphere Climate Initiative reports, “Reacting with ‘too little, too late’ may lock in the gradual but unavoidable transformation of our Earth…in a terrible legacy that may last a thousand years or more.”

Most world leaders promote a temperature limit of 1.5C. Manuel Augusto, current speaker for the LDC negotiation group and the Secretary of State for External Relations of Angola, advocates limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C.

FullSizeRender 5In Monday’s Global Environment Fund side event, former Irish president Mary Robinson discussed how various Parties up to that point had discussed climate injustice and the importance of a “people centered” approach to the Paris Package. Robinson explained that a global 2C increase actually means 4C in parts of Africa, and that 1.5C is an important part of a “people centered” agreement.

Also on Monday, 30 nations consisting of middle income, least developed and small island developing states issued a declaration expressing their desire for “full decarbonization of the world economy, 100% renewable energy by 2050, and zero emissions by mid-century in order to keep the world on track for below 1.5C warming.”

Scientists confirm that “limiting temperature rise by 1.5C is feasible;” however, “an increase of international efforts to curb greenhouse gases is imperative to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius target achievable.” Thus, with science and political backing, it would not be impossible for Parties to agree to a 1.5C temperature increase target.