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In Defense of the 1.5°C Climate Change Threshold

According to a recent paper in the journal Nature, the world’s remaining “carbon budget” – the amount of carbon-dioxide equivalents that can be emitted before breaching the 1.5°C warming threshold – is somewhat larger than was previously thought. But this is no reason for complacency.

MANILA – The Earth today is more than 1°C hotter than it was in pre-industrial times, and the terrible symptoms of its fever are already showing. This year alone, back-to-back hurricanes have devastated Caribbean islands, monsoon flooding has displaced tens of millions in South Asia, and fires have raged on nearly every continent. Pulling the planet back from the brink could not be more urgent.

Those of us who live on the front lines of climate change – on archipelagos, small islands, coastal lowlands, and rapidly desertifying plains – can’t afford to wait and see what another degree of warming will bring. Already, far too many lives and livelihoods are being lost. People are being uprooted, and vital resources are becoming increasingly scarce, while those suffering the most severe consequences of climate change are also among those who have done the least to cause it.

That is why the Philippines used its chairmanship of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) – an alliance of the 48 countries that stand to bear the brunt of climate change – to fight to ensure that the 2015 Paris climate agreement aimed explicitly to cap global warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. For us, 1.5°C isn’t merely a symbolic or “aspirational” number to be plugged into international agreements; it is an existential limit. If global temperatures rise above that level, the places we call home – and many other homes on this planet – will become uninhabitable or even disappear completely.

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