1.5 Degrees: A Matter of Survival

no picture Roy Joseph Roberto
Member since April 19, 2017
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Struggling polar bears forced to swim for survival amid receding Arctic ice. (Photo by The Inquistr)

Struggling polar bears forced to swim for survival amid receding Arctic ice. (Photo by The Inquistr)

Farmers in India look at the sky, and wonder why the monsoon has grown weaker and weaker over the years, now getting 14% less of the once bountiful rainfall. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) names climate change as the key suspect in the country’s vanishing underground water.

The Great Barrier Reef is bleaching, losing its biodiversity, and slowly disappearing. Scientists from the Australian Research Council even said that the world’s largest coral reef system is already in the terminal stage.

Yupik people in Alaska see how the melting of the permafrost unveils the secrets of their ancestors frozen for many years. And now they all hurry to protect them. With the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, large areas of permafrost are already starting to thaw—affecting 35 million people living in the permafrost zone.

People in Peru are just recovering from the shock of the deadly floods that happened last month, as ocean waters are warming at an alarming rate.

Missing the target by half a degree

In 2015 in Paris, the international community agreed to keep temperature “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”.

The world has already warmed more than 1°C, and the scientific community is almost certain that we will miss our key climate target. Surpassing the 1.5°C limit can destabilize many systems, and it will have ugly—even irreversible—consequences for the environment, the society, and even the economy.

The European Geosciences Union published a study in April 2016 that examined the impact of a 1.5°C temperature increase by the end of the century—and when it raises to a half degree more. It found that the jump from 1.5 to 2°C will make heat waves last around a third longer and rain storms about a third more intense. Also, the increase in sea level would be approximately a third higher, and the percentage of tropical coral reefs at risk of severe degradation would be roughly that much greater.

For Philippine Senator Loren Legarda, United Nations Global Champion for Resilience, breaching this limit means losing so many lives and rendering so much suffering to the generations to come.

She also stressed that keeping up to this historic pact is part of our call for climate justice, as it upholds human rights and ecosystems integrity, and that it is also a threshold of chance and hope.

“Half a degree Celsius—it doesn't sound like much—but it’s a number that could transform the face of the world as we know it," Legarda added.

Why we should stay below 1.5 degrees?

Reaching 1.5 degrees of warming is not very far away. In 2016, we saw global average temperatures a little over 1.2℃ above pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, Carbon Brief presented an analysis earlier this month, predicting that we only have 4 more years before we eat completely the 1.5 carbon budget.

The United Nations holds climate change responsible for a yearly death toll of some 300,000 people. Add to that its environmental, health, and economic impacts.

For a developing countries whose economies are heavily dependent on natural resources, the effects of climate change can only be more staggering.

Sven Harmeling, Climate Change Advocacy Coordinator of CARE International, said that limiting global warming to 1.5°C is a matter of equity. He also pointed out the essence of containing harmful climate impacts and allowing countries and communities to thrive in resilience.

“When celebrating the Paris Agreement at COP22, government leaders must commit to take more action and ramp up finance for poorer countries,” Harmeling noted.

Whether or not we survive and thrive as a species is now defined by a number. We have the obligation to pass on an equivalent amount of environmental goods to the succeeding generations. All these really depend on how we respond to the challenges of a warming planet.

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