1.5 degree Celsius target
- Describe the significance of the 1.5-degree Celsius target in the context of global climate change and its implications for sustainable development
- Discuss the potential consequences of missing the 1.5-degree Celsius target for global temperature rise, highlighting the specific environmental, socio-economic, and health impacts that would be expected.
- The decadal predictions of the WMO said that the annual mean global surface temperature between 2023 and 2027 will be 1-1.8 degree Celsius higher than the baseline temperature of 1850-1900 or pre-industrial levels.
- In 2022, it was 1.15 degrees above the baseline, and by 2027, the average will exceed 1.5 degrees, a critical point beyond which there may be no return.
What is the 1.5 degree Celsius target?
- The 1.5 degree Celsius target is the global climate target that aims to limit warming to said level by 2100, in order to prevent the planet from slipping into further climate crises.
- For decades, 2 degree was an acceptable level of warming.
- In 2010, at the Cancun COP16 , countries agreed to limit the global average warming to below 2 degree Celsius.
- In 2015, the parties to the Paris Agreement pledged to limit the average temperature rise to below 2 degree, while actively aiming for 1.5 degree above pre-industrial levels. This was endorsed as a global target by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 and since then has been pursued in all climate dialogues.
Why is the 1.5 degree target critical?
- Frequent and intense heat waves, droughts, heavy precipitation, an additional 10-centimetre rise in sea level, destruction of ecosystems and mostly irreversible changes can be witnessed at the 2 degree level.
- Discussions on the average temperature rise do not imply that the current warming is uniform across the planet.
- For example, warming greater than the global average is being experienced in the Arctic, with the term ‘polar amplification’ gaining more traction.
- The regional differences and the vulnerability factors spell more urgency for climate action which must limit the average planetary warming to 1.5 degree.
Reasons for missing the target:
- Insufficient emission reductions: One of the primary reasons for missing the target is the failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently. Despite international agreements such as the Paris Agreement, many countries have not taken significant action to curb emissions. The continued reliance on fossil fuels and lack of transition to renewable energy sources contribute to higher emissions.
- Delayed action: Another reason for missing the target is delayed action in implementing emission reduction measures. Even if countries recognize the need to address climate change, the time taken to develop and implement policies, regulations, and infrastructure can result in a delay in achieving substantial emission reductions.
- Population growth and economic development: Rapid population growth and economic development in certain regions contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions. As developing countries strive to improve their standards of living and meet the energy demands of their growing populations, they may heavily rely on fossil fuels, leading to higher emissions.
- Limited international cooperation: International cooperation is crucial for effectively addressing climate change. However, limited collaboration among countries can hinder progress. Disagreements over responsibilities, financial support, and technology transfers can slow down the implementation of effective mitigation strategies.
- Technological and infrastructure limitations: The transition to a low-carbon economy requires significant technological advancements and infrastructure development. The lack of adequate technological solutions, especially in sectors like transportation and heavy industry, can make it challenging to achieve the necessary emission reductions within the specified timeframe.
- Political and economic barriers: Political and economic factors can impede progress in meeting the 1.5-degree Celsius target. Some governments may prioritize short-term economic growth over long-term sustainability, leading to policies that favor polluting industries. The influence of powerful interest groups and lobbying efforts can also hinder the implementation of effective climate policies.
- Feedback loops and tipping points: Climate change can trigger self-reinforcing feedback loops and tipping points, which further exacerbate global warming. For example, the melting of Arctic ice can reduce the reflectivity of the Earth's surface, causing more heat to be absorbed and accelerating temperature rise. These feedback loops can amplify the warming effect and make it more challenging to stay within the 1.5-degree Celsius target.
Consequences of missing the target?
- Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events: Higher global temperatures contribute to more frequent and severe heatwaves, droughts, floods, and storms. These events can lead to widespread destruction of infrastructure, loss of lives, and displacement of populations. The impacts on agriculture, water resources, and ecosystems can be particularly devastating.
- Example: The El Niño, which is currently brewing, will further strengthen this year, resulting in a 98% possibility of witnessing temperatures higher than 2016 at least in one of the years in the 2023-27 period.
- Shrinkage of cryosphere
- Rising sea levels: As global temperatures rise, glaciers and ice caps melt, causing sea levels to rise. If the 1.5-degree target is missed, sea levels will continue to increase at an accelerated rate. This poses a significant threat to coastal communities, leading to coastal erosion, increased flooding, and the potential loss of entire island nations. It also puts critical coastal infrastructure, such as ports and cities, at risk.
- Ecosystem disruptions: Many ecosystems, such as coral reefs, tropical forests, and polar regions, are highly sensitive to temperature changes. Failure to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius can result in irreversible damage to these ecosystems, leading to species extinction, loss of biodiversity, and disruptions to essential ecosystem services like pollination, carbon sequestration, and water regulation.
- Phenological shifts and mismatches have been recorded due to climate change. The population of migratory species has declined in Sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, the warming above 1.5 degree Celsius can prove lethal for coral reefs which are already prone to bleaching.
- Impacts on human health: The consequences of climate change on human health can worsen with a temperature increase beyond 1.5 degrees. Heat-related illnesses, infectious diseases, malnutrition, and mental health issues can become more prevalent. Disruptions to healthcare systems and inadequate access to clean water and sanitation can further exacerbate these health risks, particularly in vulnerable communities.
- Food security challenges: Climate change poses significant threats to global food production. A temperature increase beyond 1.5 degrees can result in decreased crop yields, disrupted growing seasons, and increased pests and diseases. This can lead to food shortages, higher food prices, and increased malnutrition, particularly in regions that heavily rely on agriculture for livelihoods and food security.
- Example: Countries like Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan are facing acute food shortages resulting in malnutrition and hunger, demanding urgent humanitarian assistance. However, food insecurity in these countries is due to the complex interaction of climate conditions with other factors such as droughts, cyclones, and political and economic instability.
- Irreversible impacts and tipping points: Surpassing the 1.5-degree target increases the risk of triggering irreversible climate feedback loops and tipping points. These include the melting of major ice sheets, release of large amounts of stored carbon in permafrost, and disruption of ocean currents. Once these tipping points are crossed, they can amplify the warming process and lead to cascading impacts that are difficult to mitigate or reverse.
- Social and economic disruptions: Climate change impacts can exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities. Disruptions to livelihoods, displacement of communities, and increased competition over scarce resources can lead to social tensions, conflicts, and mass migration. The economic costs of climate change, including disaster recovery, adaptation measures, and loss of productive capacity, can be substantial and burdensome for countries and communities.
How is India impacted?
- India has been increasingly facing the brunt of climate change. February 2023 was recorded as the hottest month since record-keeping began in 1901.
- In 2022, India witnessed extreme weather events for 80% of the days.
- Indian monsoons were wetter than usual last year after recording extreme heat during the pre-monsoon period, resulting in wildfires in Uttarakhand and acute food shortages.
According to the Climate Change Performance Index 2023, India ranked eighth with a high-performance after Denmark, Sweden, Chile, and Morocco. Being an emerging economy with development needs, it is attempting to balance its development needs with ongoing climate action both at the domestic and international levels.
Measures taken by India:
- With domestic measures like the Green Hydrogen Mission and the introduction of green bonds, India is performing fairly well despite contributing only a miniscule to cumulative GHG emissions.
- At the international level, through the International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, India can prove to be a responsible climate player keeping in mind that it has a long way to go in very little time.