Since the start of COP21, rumour has it that a deal with a 1.5 degree goal might be signed. As the days go past, it seems ever so likely that this will be the case.
After years of propagating the idea that 2 degrees would save our world from catastrophic climate change, this is a complete reversal. So why are we reevaluating an element that has been agreed by everyone? Here are the two mains reasons :
1. The difference in impacts of an increase in temperature of 2 degrees or of 1.5 degree is immense. Hundreds of thousands of lives will be directly affected, small islands states will suffer from increased sea level rise, marine ecosystems will be more impacted. This decision comes as a life or death sentence not only for future generations but also for current populations.
2. All countries are under a tremendous pressure to reach “an ambitious deal” for COP21. This has been asked to them by civil society, their populations, their ministers, indigenous groups, youth groups, etc. But who will actually spend the time reading the small prints of the agreement? By stating that countries have not only signed an agreement but will constrain global warming to 1.5 degrees, the deal will appear as incredibly ambitious.
So what is in the small print and why am I not celebrating?
At this day and time, we have already observed an increase in temperature of 1 degrees. The current national targets bring us to a rough 3 degree increase in temperature, and we are already struggling to find a structure to scale them down to the initially agreed 2 degrees. It seems thus disturbing that we are even considering signing for 1.5 degrees.
If governments decide to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, it is essential that negotiators also agree on a clear way to reach that goal. This implies an official deadline of when they will peak emissions and a structure on how they will reduce their emissions fast enough. Most importantly, this implies that we will need to peak our emissions extremely rapidly. And no one in COP21 is even negotiating about pre-2020 arrangements.
The danger of peaking too late would mean that we may have to overshoot and then reduce our emissions by using new technology, such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or geo-engineering. These types of technologies are still being developed and aim to affect the carbon cycle, sinking back the emissions that we produce. This unpredictable technology is not always trusted, as they imply modifying the climate system even more. Many argue that we should instead focus on modifying our current emissions and western lifestyles, instead of losing time and financial resources in uncertain solutions.
Overall, agreeing on a 1.5 degree increase temperature is an empty promise. Although it is a success to have it brought back on the negotiation table, it does not mean anything until a clear path to reach it has been agreed upon.
This architecture to implement this new target will most probably be discussed over the next COPs where the media coverage will be less important. This will however be the most interesting elements to track and it will be essential for civil society to state strongly what king of path they consider acceptable and to develop a strong position on CCS and geo-engineering.
The fact that the 2 degree consensus was able to be re-assessed is impressive . But, don’t let your government sell you they have signed an ambitious deal until they have explained their architecture to implement it.