The World Will Likely Miss 1.5 Degrees C–Why Isn’t Anyone Saying So?

The World Will Likely Miss 1.5 Degrees C–Why Isn’t Anyone Saying So?

Nearly 200 nations shaped their climate plans around this number: 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But this target, which was set seven years ago when carbon dioxide was lower in the atmosphere, will almost certainly be met.

Many climate experts believe this outcome is inevitable. Global temperatures will climb higher than 1.5 degrees compared with 150 years ago, they say, though often only in private.

Such assertions threaten to destabilize a pillar of climate plan that is embraced by countries all over the globe. This temperature target is used to measure efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and estimates of how to adapt to rising seas, wildfires, and other perils are also used to measure climate planning efforts.

This is also the main message of the U.N. climate conference this week in Egypt, where increasing efforts to achieve the target are a priority.

This number–1.5 C -promises that it will be the focus next year’s climate negotiations, even though it slips further away.

“Individually and in private, I don’t think I know many climate scientists who think 1.5 C is possible (I can count them on one hand),” Glen Peters said in an email to E&E News. Peters is a climate policy expert and research chief at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, Norway.

Some scientists believe that public optimism around 1.5 C is giving the world false hope, and could even lead to further delays in reducing global carbon emissions. However, this is not a consensus view. Others warn that killing the target too early could chill global climate action and cause confusion about which target the world should be focusing on next.

This opens up a complicated debate about when it’s appropriate for the target to be declared dead and what happens next.

The 1.5 C threshold is rapidly approaching. The world has warmed by 1.3 C already, and studies suggest that temperatures could rise to 1.5 C in a decade.

World leaders, activists, and some scientists believe that the 1.5 C target is still possible–barely but technically. But it would require an immediate and colossal effort to bring emissions down, by at least 45 percent over the next 10 years.

It would be unlike anything we have seen before. Millions of gasoline cars will likely be removed from the roads, fossil fuel power stations would close or be adapted in order to limit their carbon, and forests would need to be protected against development and chain saws.

Then, there’s this: Carbon dioxide must be pulled from the sky.

Despite these challenges, the 1.5C target remains the focus of the current global climate talks in Egypt.

The 1.5 C goal “is on live support, and machines are rattling,” stated U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, at Monday’s opening ceremony in Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt). “We are dangerously close to the point of no return

Many scientists believe that the world has reached the point of no return. Some scientists believe it’s time for the world to hear this message.

Last year, the prestigious journal Nature surveyed scientists who helped author the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate science. Out of the 92 anonymous respondents, the vast majority expected the world to warm by more than 1.5 C by the end of the century. Sixty percent predicted a warming of at most 3 C .

In the lead-up to the U.N. climate conference this year, Scientist Rebellion, an international network of scientists advocating stronger climate action, published an open-letter asking academics to declare that 1.5 C is unavoidable. So far, it’s been signed by more than 500 scientists and academics around the world.

The letter suggests that declaring 1.5 C as still feasible may inadvertently encourage policymakers and polluters to delay deep carbon cuts. It gives the illusion that there is still time to act.

“Academics can’t fix decades of delay but we can help societies to take the radical action now required to limit even worse outcomes,” states the letter.

” I believe that ‘1.5’ is still alive’, which is a form hopium–a portmanteau of false hope–“and hopium is very danger,” said Peter Kalmus (a NASA climate scientist and activist who signed this letter.”

Kalmus stated that his activism and interview with E&E News were his views and not those of NASA.

“False hopes and narratives allow people disengage from reality and allow them not to become climate activists,” he stated. “We need to find a way of mobilizing these smart people who, just like us, feel overwhelmed and are looking to make it seem less bad than it really is .”


‘A disconnection’

If so many scientists believe that overshooting 1.5 C should be a foregone conclusion, then why don’t more of them say so publicly?

” “It’s been difficult to pinpoint why,” Peters stated in an interview.

He said that there are concerns about declaring it a failure publicly could dampen global climate action. It could be easier for some people just to give up once the world has failed to meet a major goal. It is important to communicate that the world must not abandon its goal and that any additional warming that is prevented will make a difference.

Since 1.5 C is not a realistic target, it is often met with “pretty aggressive” pushback from those who are trying to keep it alive, such as activists and members of the climate science community. It is not a good idea to be accused of moral treason by doubting the target.

“In some ways, you feel like you’re a skeptic or giving up on small island developing countries or something like this,” Peters said.

Scientists are by nature reluctant to voice their opinions on outcomes that are technically possible. Many experts are reluctant to rule out the possibility that it might happen, even if it seems unlikely.

” I think it’s simply an disconnect between what is technically feasible but not politically possible,” said Marta RiveraFerre, a scientist at INGENIO, a joint research center of the Spanish National Research Council (Spanish National Research Council) and the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Rivera-Ferre also signed the open letter of Scientist Rebellion.

” We could achieve 1.5 if you wanted,” she stated. “The point is that it is the political circumstances that make this impossible

Some climate scientists believe it is important for experts to publicly distinguish between their personal predictions, and what science says is technically possible with enough political will.

“Scientists are just like everyone else. We have our opinions and we share some disappointments about the political response to climate science evolution,” said Carl-Friedrich Schleussner (head of climate science at Climate Analytics, a non-profit organization) and a scientist at Humboldt University of Berlin.

It is clear that the world isn’t on track to meet its goals, he stated.

” This doesn’t mean the idea is out of question. However, it does suggest that such a response might emerge,” he stated. “And that’s a very important dimension. Scientifically, there’s nothing we can say to say it’s gone or dead. We need to say that there is still a lot of uncertainty around these questions .”


Experts like Peters believe that it’s equally important to inform the public about the likelihood that the world will miss this target.

” I would argue, if it’s going to go above 1.5 degrees, that’s essential communication for people who would suffer as a result of that,” he said. “I have issues with people who aren’t open about the difficulty of getting 1.5 and its unlikelyliness .”

‘Almost inevitable’

The 1.5 C target was not always the rallying point for global climate efforts. For years, two degrees was the focus of international climate negotiations. The idea that warming above 2 C would have dangerous consequences dates back to at least the 1970s, and it started to become a serious factor in global climate discussions in the 1990s.

But research has shown that global warming could have serious consequences for the planet, even if it was limited to 2 degrees. The worst effects would likely be felt by the developing countries, who historically have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions.

Many of the most vulnerable countries–particularly small island nations faced with severe threats from rising sea levels–began to push for more ambitious goals.

In 2015, world leaders finalized the landmark Paris climate agreement. It requires nations to keep global average temperatures below 2 C, while “pursuing efforts to keep them below 1.5 C “.

Since then, 1.5 C has been the global goal.

This is not an unfounded concern. Climate change is already causing havoc on the planet according to studies. Even small amounts of additional warming can have devastating consequences.

Extreme weather conditions, such as heat waves, droughts and wildfires, are already getting worse around the globe. Sea levels are rising and glaciers shrinking. Some of these changes will continue for years even after temperatures stabilize. The irreversible transformations of some of the most iconic ecosystems in the world, such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon rainforest, are threatening to destroy many of these iconic ecosystems. Rising oceans are threatening certain coastal communities and entire islands.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been releasing increasingly dire warnings over the years. The IPCC’s most recent assessment report, released in three installments over the course of the last year and a half, warns of cascading disasters and irreversible climate impacts.

Yet, efforts to meet Paris targets have not been fast enough.

A recent report from the U.N. The Environment Programme estimated that global climate policies would lead to a warming of about 2.8 C by the end of this century if they are implemented. Many countries have set timelines for achieving net-zero emissions and have made more ambitious pledges in the future. Even if all these promises were fulfilled, temperatures would still rise by around 1.8 degrees.

As at today, there is “no credible pathway” to 1.5 C, according to the report.

The report does not state that the target will be missed. The latest IPCC report is no different. The IPCC authors did offer a dose reality.

“It’s almost certain that we will at most temporarily overshoot 1.5,” Jim Skea (an energy expert at Imperial College London) said during a presentation of its findings in April.

The likelihood–and dangers–of overshoot

Would a climate disaster be caused by overshooting 1.5 C?

It is technically possible to exceed a climate target and bring down global temperatures later. It is based on the concept of “negative emissions”, which involves using various technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and cool the planet.

There are many theories about how to reduce negative emissions. These range from special machines to huge carbon-guzzling tree plantations. Problem is, most of these technologies need to be applied on large scales in order to work. It’s not clear if this is possible.

If the world exceeds 1.5 C, there is no guarantee that temperatures will drop again.

Major climate reports still believe it can be done. Computer models that are consistent with 1.5 C include negative emissions and some temporary overshoot.

The possibility of exceeding 1.5 C complicates questions about when the world should admit that the target was missed.

” The problem lies in how we define the target,” stated Oliver Geden, a climate policy expert from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Is it ever above 1.5? Were we allowed to exceed 1.5 within the IPCC definition ?

If the world finally admits that overshooting the target is inevitable, there’s not a clear consensus about what to do next. Who decides what the overshoot goal should be? Who decides what the overshoot target should be?

Scientists will need to wait years, if not decades, before they can determine if the world has reached the 1.5 C threshold. There is a lot of variability within the climate system. The Earth’s average temperature will likely fluctuate between 1.5 C and 1.5 C for several decades before it becomes clear that they have reached the target.

This means that the 1.5 C target will likely continue to be a central part of international climate negotiations for many years, even as it slips away.

Experts might disagree about how to communicate 1.5 C. They all agree that it is crucial that the world reduces carbon emissions as quickly as possible.

Schleussner from Climate Analytics stated that it is important to keep the best interests of the most vulnerable places in the center of climate negotiations. The crises faced small island states and other emerging nations led to the 1.5 C target.

” “It hasn’t been scientists–it certainly haven’t been Western scientists-–that have been calling to this,” he stated. “It was vulnerable nations around the world that said this is something we need for our survival .”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from

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