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Understanding one point five

– Medical professionals have a way of cutting through because they have to make decisions under massive uncertainty.

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

 

Diarmid Cambell-Lendrum, climate change and health team leader at the World Health Organization

The 2°C or 1.5°C targets are political negotiations about how much risk you are willing to take, not scientific rationales.

DIARMID CAMBELL-LENDRUM

Where does the 1.5°C target come from?

From what I heard, the 1.5°C target was something that came into the Paris process quite late, as a serious consideration. It seemed to have come like a train at the end of the talks.

From what I’ve heard, some of the people who proposed it were even surprised at how quickly it was taken up.

It’s clear that 1.5°C is an aspiration goal. From a health point of view, the less climate change we get, the better we are. The impacts just increase with how much climate change that happen. The closer we get to 1.5°C, the better.

Researchers have never presented a scientific rationale for “why it has to be 2 degrees or why it has to be 1.5 degrees” – it’s like a speed limit; you know that the faster you drive, the more likely you will hit people and have accidents. The 2°C or 1.5°C targets are political negotiations about how much risk you are willing to take, not scientific rationales.

If we can stop at 1.5°C, that will be fantastic! From a health point of view, the health advantages of stopping warming at 1.5°C rather than 2°C – although we haven’t formally done the analysis – are pretty clear. An aggressive 1.5°C target is good because it gives you the opportunity to get more of the health co-benefits from mitigation.

We need a new kind of research looking at new ways to reach the political climate goal, whatever it is, rather than new climate scenarios. We need research that looks at the co-benefits between climate change action and health action. How you get there, what kinds of measure you use, is also important and part of a strong argument.

What can climate change professionals learn from medical professionals?

We can’t wait for the perfect lab results before we intervene.

Diarmid Cambell-Lendrum

I’m a scientist myself, but I see that medical practitioners have been far more effective in communicating this issue than the scientists. As scientists, we always try to be cautious; we always try to do the “IPCC type of thing”, try to put numbers on 1.5°C vs. 2°C etc.

Medical professionals have a way of cutting through because they have to make decisions under massive uncertainty.

If a person’s temperature chart looked like our planet’s, you’d intervene. You wouldn’t know exactly what was going to kill them, you would only have a rough idea, but you wouldn’t wait to the autopsy to intervene. You would certainly put into place protective interventions that would be good for you anyway, irrespective of the disease that was going to kill you. Doctors are way more direct than we in the research community are because they see the analogy of looking at the planet as a patient.

We can’t wait for the perfect lab results before we intervene.

We haven’t done enough with the health voice. Looking at public trust, at the top you have medical professionals – doctors, nurses – and educators. At the bottom are politicians, slightly up are business men, although not much, and journalists are down there. The least trusted people are running the show and the most trusted people are the ones who haven’t really, effectively mobilized their voice. We should be doing more about that.

Should health risk be part of all climate change talk, Jana Sillmann?

 

 Jana Sillmann, research director at CICERO

 

Indeed, we should reach out and connect much more with medical doctors about climate change and its consequences for human health.

People trust their doctors much more than they trust (climate) scientists. People are much more concerned about their own health and well-being – and are spending a fortune on it if they have the money – than they are about the environment or the society in general.

People trust their doctors much more than they trust scientists.

jana sillmann

Having medical doctors talking about climate change and direct impacts on people's health would probably boost societies’ awareness and concern about climate change and (hopefully) their willingness to invest in keeping global warming below two degrees.