3.1 Dealing with climate: Why 1.5 Degrees?

Author: Tara McCleery

ABSTRACT: The 1.5° C limit per the Paris Agreement.

Diagram 1 (Image Credit: The International Panel of Climate Change)


The Paris Agreement (‘Agreement’) is an international pact that was initiated in December 2015 and came into effect in November 2016. The Agreement is intended to reduce the effects of climate change and was introduced by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As of January 2, 2021, all countries, except seven (South Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Libya) have signed and ratified the Agreement (United Nations Treaty Collection, 2021). Article 2.1 (a) of the Agreement states that the goal is “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2° C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015).

The ‘pre-industrial levels’ represent the global temperature between the years of 1850-1900. Neither the Paris Agreement, nor the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have disclosed these ‘pre-industrial levels.’ The IPCC released the 5th Assessment Report (AR5) which provided the research on global warming for the Agreement. The IPCC is the leading world authority on science related to climate change, its impact, risks, and strategy. The IPCC claims that the reasons the ‘pre-industrial levels’ were not disclosed is because it is “a compromise between the reliability of the temperature information and how representative it is of truly pre-industrial conditions.” In other words, the change in global temperature can be deduced to natural occurrences over a suitable period, e.g. 30-50 years. Although 1.5° C doesn’t seem catastrophic, it will lead to the increase in frequency and intensity of natural storms, droughts, floods, water supply shortages, and increased rate of melting ice, therefore increasing the warming of the planet further.

As shown in Diagram 1, the IPCC projects that we will reach the 1.5° C limit by the year 2040, unless we act. In the next 10 years, we need to cut 7% gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (GtCO2) per year to achieve the stated limit of 1.5° C. A Report provided by the IPCC was written by ninety-one people from forty countries. In the Report supplied by the IPCC, the consequences of “extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic Sea ice, among other changes” (IPCC, 2018) that we are currently experiencing are due to the current 1° C above pre-industrial temperatures of the Earth. If we do not limit global warming to 1.5° C, we will start to see the irreversible effects of our destruction. The Report goes on to say that 45% of CO2 emissions needs to fall from 2010 levels by the year 2030 before we start to see these consequences increase. Therefore, if we limit global warming to 1.5° C there will be momentous benefits to the biodiversity and ecosystems on Earth. We need to remove CO2 from our atmosphere, by reducing our energy consumption and production, responsible agriculture and building, and minimizing transportation, in order to restore the balance.


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