Global politics of 1.5 to stay alive

Photo Courtesy: Climate Analytics

People in Somalia face famine conditions, triggered by prolong drought. About 30 million people in the East African countries are on the brink of undergoing alarming level of food insecurity.

Researchers observe the increase in salinity intrusion in Bangladesh by about 26%, leading to scarcity of fresh drinking water and adversely affecting the livelihoods of people living in the coastal regions.

Scientists see the greening of Antarctica’s pristine white landscape, fostered by higher temperature and warming by half a degree per decade.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault – a “fail-safe” repository buried deep in an Arctic mountain side to protect the earth’s food supply during an apocalypse – flooded last month due to melting of ice.

Fishing villages along Honduras’ Caribbean coast see how rising of the sea level devours their inhabitable land.

All these may look like ‘bits and pieces’ from a ‘dystopian’ novel, but these are simply the consequences of climate change that the world is experiencing now. The world is already warmer by a degree, and a further dramatic rise in global temperature will be catastrophic for the Earth’s eco-system as well as for socio-economic conditions.

In December 2015, in Paris, representatives from 196 nations adopted the ambitious Paris Agreement to keep temperature “well below 20C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.50 C”. It raises the question: How did the number 1.50 C make its way to the historic climate pact?

Two degrees was considered to be the safer limit for as long as twelve years till the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) showed their reservations regarding this long-set global temperature limit in 2008. In an AOSIS commissioned study by the scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research on the impacts of 20 C rise, put forward the need for a safer limit for the survival of the island states.

In 2009, in Copenhagen, the small island states and African nations with Tuvalu in lead called for including the 1.5 limit in global climate negotiations. Finally, after much negotiation, the Copenhagen Accord enshrined 20C as the central goal for global climate politics, with a provision for revisiting 1.5 degrees in 2015.

In 2011, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christina Figures acknowledged, “Two degrees is not enough – we should be thinking of 1.5 degrees. If we are not headed to 1.5 degrees we are in big trouble, big trouble.”

The recognition from her gave the 1.5 limit the support to go those extra miles to set a global goal to “stay alive”. Finally, in 2015, at the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP), the 1.5 limit was adopted as the safer limit to determine the very existence of vulnerable nations in the world map.

Although this half a degree difference may seem negligible in figure, but have greater significance in the long run. A research published in April 2016 in Earth System Dynamics analysed the climate models used in IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, where they considered 11 different indicators including extreme weather events, water availability, crop yields, coral reef degradation and sea-level rise to forecast impacts at 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees of warming. The study suggests “significant differences” in all the impacts including inundation (due to sea-level rise and glacier melting), scarcity of fresh water, issue of food security, unbearable heat waves in summer and unpredictable precipitation rate.

So, the big question is: Is it possible to achieve this highly ambitious goal? In the run up to Paris, all the Parties to the convention were called for submitting their national pledges to reduce global warming. UN Environment suggest that the current national pledges or the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) will reduce the 2030 emissions from around 64.7 GT to 53-53.9 GT with a gap in emissions reduction of 12-14 GT to be on track for a 2 C limit.

While in theory, it is yet to confirm the success, to pursue the ambitious goal of 1.5 by 2100, the Unites States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement last week has weakened the hope among many. The NDCs prepared by the developing nations are subject to international assistance of USD 100 billion per year by 2020 from the developed nations through the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The United States’ pulling out from the climate deal has endangered about 1 billion people members to the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), states Ethiopia, the Chair of CVF in a statement released on 9 June 2017.

Although this looks like a huge setback to the efforts to curb global warming, however climate experts around the world opine otherwise. “Donald Trump and his Climate Change Denial” saga has been going on for quite some time from during his campaign for the US presidency.

“If the US stays in it (the Paris Agreement), the rest of the world would have to face negative consequence of having to fight them on every little issue in the negotiations, as they will inevitably try to hold back all our actions”, says Dr. Saleemul Huq, Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development.

In addition to this, Carbon Brief in a report last month predicted that only 4 more years to go before we fully burn down the 1.5 carbon budget. As we are already a degree above the pre-industrial level, a collective and more ambitious approach towards achieving the goals are to be made.

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Shaila Mahmud is a  Climate Tracker Fellow for 1.5 C Survive and Thrive campaign.

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