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Understanding one point five

– The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C is really big 

Last May, I visited the UN's annual "summer summit" on climate change in Bonn, Germany. This was my first personal meeting with the UNFCCC (the United Nations Convention on Climate Change) and as many before me, I was overwhelmed. Not only by the multiple rooms, corridors and various formal and informal meetings taking place at all hours, but by the stories I found on my quest for the origin of the 1.5°C target. Below is one of these interviews.

-Monica Bjermeland, CICERO communications advisor

In this story

 

Adelle Thomas, assistant professor at the University of Bahamas and senior research associate at Climate Analytics

Where does the 1.5°C target come from?

For me, coming from a small island, the Bahamas in the Caribbean, we’ve always taken the perspective that any warming is too much warming. As all small islands have.

There was the 2°C limit, but even with that, we felt it was too much. We had initially wanted 1.5°C to be a ceiling so that the temperature wouldn’t go passed 1.5°C. Over the years, though, 1.5°C has become a minimum. Even 1.5°C is not really acceptable to us.

There have been so many scientific papers that have detailed the challenges that we already face now – with just one degree of warming – which will be intensified with a 1.5°C or 2°C target. Will our islands still exist, then, will our territory still be above water?

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C is really big. We would have preferred 1.5°C to be the limit.

Who coined “1.5°C”?

Since I began looking at climate change (...) this 1.5°C target has just been around.

adelle thomas

I don’t know. Since I began looking at climate change, which began in 2008, this 1.5°C target has just been around. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) came up with a strategy; “1.5 to stay alive”, which was very catchy, and which fed into the support of the Paris Agreement. Before that, it was just 2°C.

I don’t know the origins of 1.5°C – it’s a really good question!

From where you stand as a human geographer, how do we move from here in terms of dealing with climate change?

We come to these UN sessions and it’s all talk, talk, talk ...

Adelle thomas

The time is now. It’s time for action. We have identified what we need to do to limit warming to 1.5°C, which includes mitigation, you know, stopping emissions about now. This also includes incorporating adaptation now. We know what the impacts are going to be. We can’t continue with business as usual.

For small island states, we can’t continue to build along the coastlines, and we can’t continue to rely on the natural resources that we have now, such as beaches and tourism. We have to incorporate climate change into our planning, into our development, to ensure that we have sustainable development.

We come to these UN sessions and it’s all talk, talk, talk ...

You and I could surely have had this exact discussion ten years ago …

The time for just talking is over.

adelle thomas

Yes, exactly. We know, and yet we keep delaying action. As the impacts keep getting worse. Just look at the past hurricane season in the Caribbean and the devastating impacts … we could have predicted that this would happen, and it will continue to happen if we don’t do something. We’re seeing more devastating impacts now.

The time for just talking is over.

How are people in the Caribbean doing after last years’ devastating hurricane season?

We can see the changes now, the impacts are so large.

adelle thomas

People are paying more attention to climate change. Since we are so close to the United States, geographically, there was still some skepticism to climate change, even though we’re so highly vulnerable. Now, the public at large, recognizes climate change. We can see the changes now, the impacts are so large. There is no more denying it.

The hurricanes were front and center in the narratives about climate change. It’s important for us to get out the message that it’s not only hurricanes – it spans everything . That’s the challenge now.

How will the IPCC special report on 1.5°C be received by people in the Bahamas?

...videos and music and songs and artists … maybe we should do something like that again?

adelle thomas

Initially, there is not going to be people lined up to read it – just the regular people. The derivatives coming out of it will be very important.

I think that’s a problem with scientific communication in general. With the other IPCC reports, you can’t talk to a regular person who will have read the report. The IPCC has done some outreach activities lately, videos and infographics and things like that, that eventually trickles down.

The “1.5 to stay alive” campaign, for example, was very important. It had videos and music and songs and artists … maybe we should do something like that again.

You attended the loss and damage discussions in Bonn in May 2018. What did you hope for?

...loss and damage is one of the key issues SIDS need to focus on.

adelle thomas

The loss and damage question is really important to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) because everyone experiences it and we don’t even have the capacity to assess the impacts we are experiencing – much less being able to predict future impacts and respond to them financially. For me, therefore, loss and damage is one of the key issues SIDS need to focus on now, in addition to adaptation.