1.5 °C

DEFINITION
Benjamin Carvajal Ponce
Founder of Uno Punto Cinco

The number 1.5 is often referenced in climate conversations, but what does it represent? 1.5 is a target adopted by the Paris Climate Accord which aims to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1750-1800). But to us it means more. 1.5 signifies a shared ambition that transcends borders, languages, and cultures, uniting society behind a common cause.

Currently, with a global temperature rise of 1.15°C, over 20 million people have been displaced by extreme floods, storms and other disasters since 2008. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the need for global greenhouse gas emissions to reach their maximum level before 2025 to keep the 1.5 target within reach. The world must nearly halve GHG emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. Every fraction of a degree of warming matters for a safe future.

We must acknowledge our disproportionate responsibility and capacity to address climate change. The richest 10% of the global population are responsible for 45% of the world’s emissions. In recent years, the poorest half of the globe are responsible for less than 10% of emissions, but are more vulnerable to climate impacts. At COP27, an important milestone was achieved in climate negotiations with the establishment of a loss and damage fund that is dedicated to helping climate-vulnerable communities—a significant step towards tackling environmental inequality.

Everyone has the power to act. The simplicity of 1.5 is intentional. We understand that 1.5 amounts to more than a number, more than a policy agreement. It is a climate justice target that is beyond emissions, centering people and ecosystems. We must remember it is not too late. We have time to act, and that time is now.

Pamela EA Climate Words 1 5 C

Youth activist Catalina Santelices, co-founder of Latinas por el Clima, protesting to keep 1.5 °C alive in the Blue Zone at the United Nations COP 26 climate negotiations. Glasgow, Scotland, 2021.
Photography By Pamela EA

RESEARCH
Research and Text by Sorah Park

The 1.5°C target is the result of a climate pledge adopted by 196 countries at COP21 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Paris in December, 2015. The Paris Agreement initially agreed to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. However, both 1.5°C and 2°C temperature goals were included in the agreement as a last-minute compromise to accommodate countries with different views on the appropriate goal. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a shocking report on the differences of the large-scale impacts of these two temperature targets. This report accelerated a push to limit warming to 1.5°C to avoid the irreversible and catastrophic effects of warming beyond 2°C, resulting in increased climate action and awareness to meet the ambitious 1.5°C target. 

The report illustrates how anthropogenic changes in global temperatures are projected to increase extreme heat waves and pose risks for all organisms and ecosystems. While the landmark Paris Agreement marked the first time countries came together to commit to a temperature target, increased climate action towards rapid decarbonization is necessary in order to reach the critical 1.5°C target and prevent severe consequences on natural and human systems. The Emissions Gap Report 2022 published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) confirmed that the global community was, at the time of publication, on track to a 2.8°C increase by the end of the century which is almost double the temperature goal. Additionally, greenhouse gas emissions must drop by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels to meet the 1.5°C climate goal. 

Since the 2021 COP26 in Glasgow, countries are falling short of meeting the 1.5°C threshold and making progress on reaching Paris Agreement goals. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged G-20 countries at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt to accelerate their transition in phasing down coal—an environmentally detrimental fossil fuel that affects economically disadvantaged populations disproportionately. While the 0.5°C difference between the 1.5°C target and 2°C may seem small, the negative impacts of exceeding the prior target are monumental. For example, the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C will save millions of lives and could result in 420 million less people being exposed to extreme heat waves. Every tenth of a degree matters.

The world is already witnessing the damage of increasing emissions, largely due to humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels and inadequate progress on decarbonization. To date (2023), the global average temperature has risen by over 1.1°C, leaving little leeway until temperatures surpass the 1.5°C threshold. Climate-vulnerable countries in the Global South are facing more intense, extreme weather events. The devastating floods in Pakistan since June 2022 are a cruel example, displacing poor populations and increasing risk of waterborne diseases. These ravaging floods are a direct result of human-induced climate change and have impacted over 33 million people and damaged 1,500 health centres in the country.The unjust reality of the climate crisis is that more than 80% of carbon emissions originate from the 20 wealthiest countries, while Pakistan has only contributed 0.28% of historical carbon pollution.Global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have not been greater than 300 ppm (parts per million, of carbon dioxide molecules per million molecules of dry air) for the past million years. Today it is about 420 ppm, which is 50% higher than pre-industrial levels, bringing the planet into conditions that humanity has never adapted to. 

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C is immense. Coral reefs provide food for half a billion people globally and will face “frequent mass mortalities” at the 1.5°C target, but at 2°C of warming, coral reefs will likely cease to exist.  At 1.5°C, 14% of the global population will be exposed to extreme heat waves and at 2°C, that percentage increases to 37%. Vulnerable regions like the Arctic are warming two to three times faster than the rest of the planet, since the Paris target represents the average global temperature. At the recent COP27, Prime Minister Philip Davis of the Bahamas underscored the time-sensitive nature of the Paris target, “The goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees is on life support. This is a hard truth for many to admit, because even the best-case scenarios will mean almost unimaginable upheaval and tragedy.”