Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why We Need the Next-to-Impossible 1.5°C Temperature Target - by Simon Donner

The slogan “1.5 Degrees” is projected on the Eiffel Tower as part of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) on December 11, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photograph Credit: Chesnot/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
The emissions reduction commitments made by the participating countries are not close to sufficient to achieve these targets.  Carbon budget analyses show it will be next to impossible to avoid the 1.5°C limit without “negative emissions” – sucking carbon dioxide out of the air, using technologies that are unproven or not yet in existence. 

It is therefore understandable that Oliver Geden of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs would argue in his article, “Paris climate deal: the trouble with targetism,” that the temperature targets in the agreement are the height of hypocrisy. 

Yet Mr. Gedden and other critics of the Paris Agreement are missing the point of the climate negotiations.  The issue facing international negotiators is not the statistical odds of staying within stated temperature limits.  The issue is what happens if we do not.

After all, this is a global climate agreement.  And to many countries, passing those temperature limits could be a disaster.

The temperature targets were included in the agreement out of respect for developing countries and small island states like the Republic of Kiribati, where I have conducted climate research over the past decade.  In particular, the lower 1.5°C target is a signal to these countries that the world recognizes the existential threat that comes with more warming.
The critics are correct in arguing that the world is unlikely to avoid 1.5°C of warming, or even 2°C of warming.  Yet to dismiss the targets entirely is to dismiss the needs of countries that are full members of the international climate negotiations.

By agreeing on the temperature limits, we are officially recognizing the scientific evidence that harm will come with more warming.  This helps ensure that countries like Kiribati which are most at risk will receive the needed international assistance, a key tenet of international climate policy since the creation of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.  Though they have not received much attention in the international media, the adaptation, capacity-building, and finance sections are as central to the Paris climate agreement as the sections on emissions and temperature targets.

In addition, enshrining temperature limits in the agreement is important in case it does become feasible to affordably extract carbon dioxide out of the air.  Without the temperature limits, those with access to the technology may not be compelled to deploy that technology at sufficient scale to avoid harm to the developing world. 

Read more at Why We Need the Next-to-Impossible 1.5°C Temperature Target

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