Wading on thin ice

20 June 2019

A serious discussion suddenly broke out yesterday in room Addis Abeba on how to meet the ultimate objective of the Convention and prevent dangerous climate change. This under the item of the Second Periodic Review (SPR) of the long-term global goal under the Convention, where Parties started sharing concrete ideas and proposals for how to move forward with Theme 1 of the item €“ reviewing the adequacy of the global goal. (Theme 2 is a review of progress in getting there)

Some might say that we are hopelessly off course from a pathway anywhere near 2 degrees Celsius that it doesn’t matter much whether we aim for 1.5°C or well below 2°C or somewhere in between. But there is a lot of truth in the old adage that if you don’t know where you are going, you are unlikely to get there.

And in fact, the global goal agreed in 2015 under the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC is ambiguous. For ECO it is clear, limiting warming to 1.5°C is the only reasonable option. What is most important €“ Limiting warming to 1.5°C, or well below 2°C. What about overshoot and return? How much effort should be made to limit warming to 1.5°C. Should “well below 2°C be treated as the “real” objective, or a backstop that we should never risk approaching.

The more we have learned before and especially since Paris from the science and impacts, the more cause for alarm about the consequences of exceeding 1.5°C.

Over the past year, a combination of the heat waves, arctic melting, flooding and other extreme weather driven events, and a growing awareness of the much more dramatic impacts that will result from exceeding 1.5°C of warming, has driven an unprecedented wave of concern and activism in many countries. 1.5°C will already mean devastating loss and damage for countless people, but two degrees is far worse. And governments are responding with announcements of NDC revision processes and net zero targets within a generation, not just in the far off second half of the century.

The SPR is the only process we have to take a sober second look at the adequacy of the global goal, and get clarity on a scientifically informed long-term temperature goal. Of course this will be based on the evidence and discussions during the SPR – highly likely to be centered on 1.5°C.

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