Written by Pooran Desai OBE (Founder) and Niamh James (Researcher)

‘We have kept 1.5oC alive’

Alok Sharma, Head of UK Leadership,
COP26 World Leaders Summit.

We need to stay under 1.5oC of global average temperature increase to avoid catastrophic changes to the climate and ecological systems on which our societies depend.  Many governments and companies are maintaining the stance ‘keep 1.5oC alive’. But the vast majority of scientists don’t think this is likely. What is going on?

Most climate scientists don’t think we will stay under 1.5oC

In a survey conducted by Nature, authors of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report gave their opinions of the current climate crisis. Most alarming, 96% of respondents felt that the 1.5oC goal of the Paris Agreement is unlikely and 60% of the climate scientists expect world temperatures to exceed at least 3oC by 2100.

So, the question is why keep 1.5oC alive, when 96% of climate scientists think it’s unlikely? 

The current situation

Currently, we are already seeing the effects of climate change. Coastal erosion and flooding are destroying people’s homes, food resources and livelihoods. Extreme droughts in areas of the world are destroying crops and pushing people into malnutrition and poverty. These events are causing people to migrate elsewhere, marking the start of a climate refugee crisis.

When temperatures rise

At 1.5oC we’ll get around half a metre of sea-level rise, which will spell the end of island nations such as the Maldives. At 3oC the coastlines around the world are transformed, displacing hundreds of millions of people. 14% of the world’s population will be exposed to extreme heatwaves at 1.5oC, but this rises to 37% at 2oC when over 200 million more people will experience water shortages. The average length of a drought goes up by two months with 1.5oC of warming, by four months at 2oC, and 10 months at 3oC of warming. At 4oC civilisation as we know it cannot exist. And all this is without taking into account irreversible climate and ecological tipping points which may be triggered even at 1.5oC.

The human brain isn’t particularly well suited for assessing catastrophic risk

Dr Alice Hill

Could it be that governments and companies do not want to comprehend the fundamental changes we would need to stay under 1.5oC and instead are avoiding difficult decisions by holding on to forlorn hope?

‘We will not do it with our current leaders, they are ill-equipped and unable to understand the challenges that we face’

Prof. Kevin Anderson

Do we lack the leadership or do we face a deeper cultural problem? 

We are in a predicament. Will existing transformative technologies grow fast enough? Do we rely on the hopes of technologies not even developed yet? Will nature-based solutions be enough to help us? Will we have no choice but to resort to geo-engineering? Do we need to move away from a consumer-based society? Do we need to rethink our relationship with nature? 

We will be exploring some of these difficult questions in future blog posts as part of #AdaptRegenerate so stay posted.