aleksii via unsplash

The 1.5 Paris Agreement target is not enough

By Katell Lavarec

The 1.5°C target is failing to stop global warming – the Paris Agreement has failed us

November 30th 2015, Paris, France. 196 parties gathered for negotiations  with the aim of creating an international treaty on climate change. Two weeks later, on December 12th, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) concluded, with the announcement of the following agreement: The main objective is to restrict the increase in the global average temperature  to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Also, to attempt to limit the  temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – before human activities such as fossil fuel burning and other polluting activities  began to warm the planet. The Paris Agreement was considered to be a  groundbreaking treaty, uniting all nations in the fight against climate  change and its consequential impacts.  

But what does this ‘1.5°C temperature limit’ mean? Concretely, scientists have found that even a small increase of 0.1°C in  temperature is a great risk to the planet. As a preventative, the 1.5°C target was set. If global warming were to reach 2°C,  we could expect extreme hot days to be 4°C warmer at mid-latitudes, compared to 3°C at 1.5°C. On top of this, sea-level rise could be 0.1m higher than at  1.5°C, which could potentially expose up to 10 million more people to  frequent flooding.

The 1.5°C Paris Agreement goal was therefore imagined  to significantly mitigate these effects of climate change. The key to achieving this target lay in reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the earliest possible time and ultimately achieving net zero emissions by the midpoint of the 21st century. In order to stay beneath the 1.5°C goal, emissions would need to be reduced by 50% by 2030.  

The situation has become critical; 9 years since the conference, and the 1.5°C goal is still far from being reached. An interview with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, was conducted after the  signing of the 2015 treaty. At that time, Espinosa expressed optimism about the achievability of the goal, citing transformations in  technologies, behaviors, and commitments by various actors

However, during the opening of the Glasgow COP26 in November 2021, she acknowledged that ‘we are not where we need to be’, and highlighted that emissions are still expected to rise by 16%, instead of decreasing over the next few years. Additionally, the Copernicus Climate Change Service  reported that 2023 was 1.48°C warmer than the pre-industrial level, and the global average temperature for the past twelve months was confirmed by Copernicus to be 1.56°C above the pre industrial average. These results raise the question of how we should  establish new climate goals after these developments in recent years.  

Still, it is important to note that while the 1.5°C temperature limit was exceeded for twelve months, the Paris Agreement has not been violated.  This is because temperature increases need to be measured over a longer period to be meaningful. The climate’s natural variability can cause  temporary fluctuations, but one thing is certain: human-induced warming is increasing. It will take several years of exceeding 1.5°C before we  can conclude that the Paris Agreement’s thresholds have been surpassed.  

This leaves room for reflection and future aspirations. Rises of temperature levels are indeed concerning for the future of the planet,  therefore should we be aspiring for much less than the Paris threshold? The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report states that global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 are expected to cause a warming of more than 1.5°C during the 21st century, making it harder to  limit warming to below 2°C. 

The report also emphasizes the rapidly closing window of opportunity to ensure a livable and sustainable future for all. The best way to address the certainty of future climate change  for the IPCC is to quickly and significantly reduce emissions. This would lead to a noticeable slowing of global warming within two decades, and observable changes in the atmosphere within a few years. Taking action to adapt to these changes in the current decade would lower projected losses and damages for both humans and ecosystems. It would also bring many additional benefits, particularly for air quality and health.


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments