Why 2 Degrees Of Global Warming Is Still Too Much

06/07/2015 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
FILE- In this March 8, 2014, file photo steam from the Jeffrey Energy Center coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the setting sun near St. Marys, Kan. A groundbreaking agreement struck Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, by the United States and China puts the world's two worst polluters on a faster track to curbing the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

In the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate scientists and experts have concluded that we should aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C; the former number of 2°C has been deemed inadequate and unsafe.

Though the report falls short of providing concrete scientific evidence, the experts have highlighted that the difference in projected risks between 1.5 °C and 2 °C of warming is significant for highly temperature-sensitive systems such as the polar regions, high mountains and the tropics and low-lying coastal regions of the world. The IPCC has also said that regional food security risks are significantly different between 1.5 °C and 2 °C of warming. The report cited the examples of some countries in Africa, where the crop yield reduction is projected to be higher than the global average.

However, scientists are also largely uncertain about the impact of a doubling of the existing warming rate. A report by ActionAid in 2012 stated that adapting to 2°C of warming would be more difficult than 1.5°C and anything above this could be "impossible". As Harjeet Singh from ActionAid International points out, "In reality, the impacts of increasing temperature levels will not be linear, but will multiply what we face now several times over. What will happen at 2, 3 or 4°C of warming is unimaginable."

"Even as the most vulnerable countries face the threat of rising sea levels, developing nations like India and China... have successfully blocked efforts at the climate negotiations to bring down the temperature limit to below 1.5 °C from 2 °C"

A U.N. report released earlier this year states that climate change accounts for 87% of disasters worldwide with only a global temperature rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius.

Challenges to human rights

In a joint statement last month, a group of human rights experts emphasised on the "human rights" implications of a 2°C rise and called on the heads of governments and their climate negotiators to prevent catastrophic environmental harm.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of countries with the UN climate talks, has argued that the 2° target is "inadequate, posing serious threats for fundamental human rights, labour and migration and displacement".

The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox has argued that "Even moving from one to two degrees of warming negatively affects the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights."

Divide in developing nations

The countries that will be impacted the most by climate change have been concerned about the reality of 2 degrees of warming since the UN climate talks began. Even as the most vulnerable countries face the threat of rising sea levels, developing nations like India and China, as well as oil-producing states like Saudi Arabia, have successfully blocked efforts at the climate negotiations to bring down the temperature limit to below 1.5 °C from 2 °C, under the guise of "no detraction from the Kyoto Protocol". It is ironic that while most of the vulnerable countries are developing economies, their biggest counterparts like India and China are doing little in solidarity for the 1.5 degree demand of these nations.

The recent agreement by G7 to limit global warming to 2 degrees and the commitment to phase out fossil fuel consumption by 2100 has received flak from developing nations like India for their unambitious targets.

The government of the small island nation, Vanuatu has decided to sue the world's leading fossil fuel companies for the impacts of climate change that they are currently facing even as fossil fuel based economies like China and India are struggling to reach a consensus on phasing out fossil fuels.

In fact, India and China have allied for years on the key negotiating point that they have a right to develop and historical emissions should be taken into consideration.

In order to phase out fossil fuels, developing countries need funds from rich countries for adaptation and mitigation. However, the financial support required for adaptation and the damages that cannot be adapted to, might not come from the rich nations. This has led the civil society and the developing nations to demand that the negotiators not only recognise the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, but also strengthen negotiations to better support the inevitable damages that will result from climate change.

Countries need to think beyond their national borders as climate change will impact us all. A validating role of powerful players like China and India is important in climate talks at Paris this year because in the words of UN Climate Chief, Christiana Figueres -- "We will only solve climate change by cooperating with one another and not by competing with one another."

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