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Understanding one point five

– We must go beyond the rhetoric and really see these demands be translated into emissions reductions

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

 

Sven Harmeling, global policy leader on Climate Change and Resilience at CARE

Scenarios for the 1.5°C limit reflect the need to reach net zero earlier than for just 2 degrees.

SVEN HARMELING

Researchers say 1.5°C is a feasible goal, but only in theory. Is it really helpful for climate action?

I think there are three key reasons why the 1.5°C limit is essential: First, it concretizes key goals in the Paris Agreement: It gives orientation on what "well below 2 degrees" is supposed to be, and it results in a stronger interpretation of Art. 4.1 of the Paris Agreement, the net zero goal by the second half of the century, as scenarios for the 1.5°C limit reflect the need to reach net zero earlier than for just 2 degrees.

Second, it drives greater attention to the perspective of those countries and people most vulnerable to climate change and the impacts they are facing, as the most ambitious part of the Paris Agreement goal should be where we strive towards as a survival goal.

Third, it has triggered massive research into climate change impacts and also pathways to get to 1.5°C, thereby providing greater information on the need to act ambitiously.

There are many more studies now than before Paris, which look at the climate change impacts at 1.5°C compared to 2°C, and they clearly show that risks are much greater above 1.5°C. There are also newer scenarios now for the emission pathways, and studies on the socio-economic benefits of a more rapid change in particular towards renewable energies.

Thus, we can more and more see the potential benefits of keeping global warming within 1.5°C, which provides important arguments for stepping up climate action. Of course, we must go beyond the rhetoric and really see these demands be translated into emissions reductions.

Some people say you coined the 1.5°C target as of 2015. True or false?

Even in 2014, there was hardly any political attention given to the 1.5°C limit with regard to negotiating the Paris Agreement.

SVEN HARMELING

The 1.5°C limit itself dates back to the times of the Copenhagen Accord, where the countries organized in the Climate Vulnerable Forum demanded that target, and at a minimum managed to include a review clause in the Copenhagen Accord that the possibility of strengthening the 2°C goal would be investigated.

This happened through the so-called Structured Expert Dialogue under the UNFCCC, taking place between 2013 and 2015, which increasingly brought attention to scientific findings that a 2°C limit would still result in significant climate change impacts and thereby impose major risks on vulnerable people, communities and countries.

However, even in 2014, there was hardly any political attention given to the 1.5°C limit with regard to negotiating the Paris Agreement. Even many NGO experts in the climate community did not pay attention. Climate Vulnerable Forum and CARE increasingly saw the need to increase public pressure, in particular inside the UNFCCC process, for making the case for the 1.5°C limit and its inclusion, in some form, in the Paris Agreement.

We undertook activities towards 1.5°C targeted actions, the first time at a UNFCCC session in Bonn in October 2014.

Climate Vulnerable Forum and CARE, then also joint by CAN International, set up a website which served as an information hub on the 1.5°C limit, showcasing how many countries were formerly supporting 1.5°C (LDCs, AOSIS, and others); gathering scientific information on 1.5°C; collecting NGO positions in favor of 1.5°C; and from that spreading the word and reaching out to other countries and stakeholders to support the 1.5°C limit. We also invented the hashtag #1o5c.

This continued up to Paris COP21. An important milestone was also the Climate Vulnerable Forum Manila Communique, which put the 1.5°C limit at the focus, and was echoed widely by civil society, partially based on the preparatory sensitization work I outlined. 

At Paris, various actions took place around the 1.5°C limit which CARE, CAN and Climate Vulnerable Forum were pushing and engaging in. After Paris, further work continued.

That is certainly in part a yes, mystery solved! How can the upcoming special report on 1.5°C help climate activists to move forward?

First, it can help raise attention by the media and the public on the importance of the 1.5°C limit and that this report is now a key authoritative source, which has looked into all the main questions, and provides solid recommendations.

Second, it can raise awareness on the large risks that temperature increase above 1.5°C bring about for the entire planet, but in particular poor and vulnerable developing countries.

Third, it will outline key activity areas which are essential to pursue in the 1.5°C context and their potential benefits for sustainable development, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation.

All of this can help us to increase pressure on decision makers to take appropriate steps, and work with various communities – academia, business sector, governments etc. – to accelerate the implementation of solutions to make the Paris Agreement's goals reality.