Is it too late for 1.5°C?
The notion of keeping the average global temperature increase below 1.5°C (from pre-industrial levels) is a concept that came out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. This agreement sought to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century. In the following years, the science has shown that the target threshold needs to be 1.5, not 2°C.
The worrying thing is, as we write this insight in early February 2024, we have exceeded this 1.5°C warming limit over a 12-month period. This is the first time on record that this has happened and comes from data collected by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
Surely now it is too late? Have we not already breached this important target and tipping point?
Over the last few years, we have already seen the devastating impact of this warming and the effects it is having on our planet. The warning signs are clear, and the planet’s hazard lights are flashing. Nevertheless, the science is showing that we have not yet permanently breached the crucial 1.5°C threshold. This threshold is a temperature average, measured globally over decades. The Paris Agreement aims to keep the world below this threshold, by the end of the century. It is still possible, but the lack of momentum, progress, and urgency on climate action means that the target is slipping away from us, faster than we thought.
Some scientists are saying that it is too late, others argue that we still have time, but it will take radical transformations in our approach to decarbonisation. Even if it is too late for 1.5°C, we cannot stop taking action. The impact becomes exponential as average global temperatures increase. We reach tipping points and trigger feedback loops caused by warming (e.g. melting of arctic tundra) which release more greenhouse gasses and trigger more warming!
We do still have time, and we must act now to stop runaway global warming. Credible and robust climate targets, aligned to the science and backed up by rapid actions to decarbonise are vital. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) give companies the tools and the guidance to set 1.5°C aligned net-zero targets. If more governments and companies set and meet these targets we are still in with a chance of keeping 1.5°C alive. But we must act now and businesses need to understand their responsibilities.
Our dedicated Climate and Carbon Team at Simply Sustainable has decades of collective experience in interpreting the science on climate change and supporting companies to create the targets and actions needed to be part of the climate solution, not the crisis.
Author: Henry Unwin, Head of Climate and Carbon, Simply Sustainable
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