Why 2 degrees of global warming is still too much

In the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate scientists and experts have concluded that we should aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C; the former number of 2°C has been deemed inadequate and unsafe.

Though the report falls short of providing concrete scientific evidence, the experts have highlighted that the difference in projected risks between 1.5 °C and 2 °C of warming is significant for highly temperature-sensitive systems such as the polar regions, high mountains and the tropics and low-lying coastal regions of the world. The IPCC has also said that regional food security risks are significantly different between 1.5 °C and 2 °C of warming. The report cited the examples of some countries in Africa, where the crop yield reduction is projected to be higher than the global average.

However, scientists are also largely uncertain about the impact of a doubling of the existing warming rate. A report by ActionAid in 2012 stated that adapting to 2°C of warming would be more difficult than 1.5°C and anything above this could be “impossible”. As Harjeet Singh from ActionAid International points out, “In reality, the impacts of increasing temperature levels will not be linear, but will multiply what we face now several times over. What will happen at 2, 3 or 4°C of warming is unimaginable.”

“Even as the most vulnerable countries face the threat of rising sea levels, developing nations like India and China… have successfully blocked efforts at the climate negotiations to bring down the temperature limit to below 1.5 °C from 2 °C”

A U.N. report released earlier this year states that climate change accounts for 87% of disasters worldwide with only a global temperature rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius.

Challenges to human rights

In a joint statement last month, a group of human rights experts emphasised on the “human rights” implications of a 2°C rise and called on the heads of governments and their climate negotiators to prevent catastrophic environmental harm.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of countries with the UN climate talks, has argued that the 2° target is “inadequate, posing serious threats for fundamental human rights, labour and migration and displacement”.

The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox has argued that “Even moving from one to two degrees of warming negatively affects the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights.”



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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

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Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission