Beyond the Two-Degree Target

In international climate-policy circles, there is broad consensus regarding the target of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But that goal cannot be met, and, rather than setting a new, "softer" target, leaders should embrace a new paradigm that combines realism and a positive global vision.

BERLIN – In international climate-policy circles, there is broad consensus regarding the target of limiting global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Still, barring a breakthrough in United Nations negotiations in the near future and a reversal in current emissions trends, meeting that two-degree target is well-nigh impossible.

But if world leaders abandon this target, they will have to make a fundamental strategic decision regarding the structure and stringency levels of a new climate goal. So international climate policy needs a paradigm shift. The science-based approach of translating a global temperature cap into precise national emission budgets is politically unfeasible. Instead, countries with a strong climate-policy agenda should advocate dynamic formulas for setting targets.

The two-degree target is the primary point of reference for today’s climate debate. A corresponding rise in the global mean temperature is usually seen as the limit beyond which the effects of climate change could become dangerous. But, contrary to widespread belief, the last assessment report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did not call for the two-degree target, which, since the mid-1990s, has acted as a catchy symbol and point of orientation for an ambitious but realistic global climate agenda.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

    The Brexit Surrender

    European Union leaders meeting in Brussels have given the go-ahead to talks with Britain on post-Brexit trade relations. But, as European Council President Donald Tusk has said, the most difficult challenge – forging a workable deal that secures broad political support on both sides – still lies ahead.

  2. The Great US Tax Debate

    ROBERT J. BARRO vs. JASON FURMAN & LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS on the impact of the GOP tax  overhaul.

    • Congressional Republicans are finalizing a tax-reform package that will reshape the business environment by lowering the corporate-tax rate and overhauling deductions. 

    • But will the plan's far-reaching changes provide the boost to investment and growth that its backers promise?

    ROBERT J. BARRO | How US Corporate Tax Reform Will Boost Growth

    JASON FURMAN & LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS | Robert Barro's Tax Reform Advocacy: A Response

  3. Murdoch's Last Stand?

    Rupert Murdoch’s sale of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets to Disney for $66 billion may mark the end of the media mogul’s career, which will long be remembered for its corrosive effect on democratic discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. 

    From enabling the rise of Donald Trump to hacking the telephone of a murdered British schoolgirl, Murdoch’s media empire has staked its success on stoking populist rage.

  4. Bank of England Leon Neal/Getty Images

    The Dangerous Delusion of Price Stability

    Since the hyperinflation of the 1970s, which central banks were right to combat by whatever means necessary, maintaining positive but low inflation has become a monetary-policy obsession. But, because the world economy has changed dramatically since then, central bankers have started to miss the monetary-policy forest for the trees.

  5. Harvard’s Jeffrey Frankel Measures the GOP’s Tax Plan

    Jeffrey Frankel, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a former member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, outlines the five criteria he uses to judge the efficacy of tax reform efforts. And in his view, the US Republicans’ most recent offering fails miserably.

  6. A box containing viles of human embryonic Stem Cell cultures Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

    The Holy Grail of Genetic Engineering

    CRISPR-Cas – a gene-editing technique that is far more precise and efficient than any that has come before it – is poised to change the world. But ensuring that those changes are positive – helping to fight tumors and mosquito-borne illnesses, for example – will require scientists to apply the utmost caution.

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now