According to a Monday report on climate change from the United Nations, maintaining the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is crucial if more extreme weather events and species’ extinctions are to be avoided. The current ceiling on temperature increase is set at 2 degrees Celcius since the 2015 Paris Agreement, to which nearly 200 nations are committed. However, new UN research shows that this pledge is not enough to avoid possibly irreparable damage to our planet’s ecosystems.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) both weighed in on the report, saying that as of now, the world is not even on course to achieving the 2C benchmark, let alone a lower target. The UN is calling for rapid changes on the part of nations, businesses and individuals. The unprecedented changes to travel and lifestyle may be jarring but are the only way to avoid catastrophic damage to our planet in the near future.
“There is clearly need for a much higher ambition level to reach even a 2 degrees target, we are moving more toward 3 to 5 (degrees) at the moment,” explained Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the WMO.
The 1.5C target would slow coastal flooding and ocean rise by the end of the century, giving people in these areas time to adapt to changes. Many species would also be given a greater chance of survival. Under the 2C target, coral reefs are still projected to disappear. The lower target would allow anywhere between 10 to 30 percent of coral reefs to possibly survive.
“Even the scientists were surprised to see … how much they could really differentiate and how great are the benefits of limiting global warming at 1.5 compared to 2,” IPCC Vice-Chair Thelma Krug told Reuters.
According the the IPCC, the human carbon footprint must fall by at least 45 percent by 2030 in order for the planet to maintain the 1.5C temperature rise and reach “net-zero” by mid-century. The report also stated that 70-85 percent of energy needs to be supplied by renewable sources by 2050 to stay at the 1.5C target — right now, renewable energy accounts for about 25 percent.
Amjad Abdulla — board member for the IPCC and chief negotiator for small island states at risk of flooding — said, “The report shows we only have the slimmest of opportunities remaining to avoid unthinkable damage to the climate system that supports life as we know it.”
While the U.S. is on target to meet the previous goal, the UN is still stressing that more action is needed. Urging individuals to make changes to their lifestyles, even at the smallest of levels, the report believes that every small incentive will make the difference. For us, this means reducing meat consumption and dairy intake, choosing public transportation or switching to electric and hybrid vehicles and demanding companies to supply low-carbon products for purchase.
Image via Natasha Kasim