Editorial: 1.5°C to stay alive

Some of the destruction caused by Cyclone Pam on the east coast of Efate Island in Vanuatu. Photo: UN Women Asia & the Pacific/flickr.com/CC BY-NC-ND

Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced drastically to avoid dangerous climate change due to rising global temperature and to fulfil the objective of the 1992 UN Climate Convention. Dangerous climate changes occur, for example, when coastlines and island states disappear due to sea-level rise, global ecosystems such as coral reefs, arctic and high mountain ecosystems become extinct, or ocean acidification due to CO2 uptake reaches a tipping point at 1.5°C of global temperature rise. In hearings held by the EU

Commission, scientists from the Potsdam Climate Institute said that only 10 per cent of the world’s coral reefs would survive a global temperature increase of 1.5°C.

At the Geneva UN Climate Negotiations in February 2015, scientists made it very clear that even with the present temperature increase of 0.8°C, climate change effects are real and that each further 0.1° increase will cause serious climate change. A WHO representative said in Geneva that  a 1.5°C level of warming is projected to lead to very large increases in health risks in comparison with the current levels of risk. In Geneva the 46 countries that make up the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) once again called for a UN target of “well below 1.5 degrees”. The 1.5 target is supported by more than 100 countries in the UN. In Geneva, AOSIS demanded a 70–95 per cent global reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 and negative emissions after 2080, based on findings from the IPCC 5th Assessment Report from 2014. To achieve this target, the Climate Action Network, comprising more than 900 NGOs worldwide, is currently running a campaign to get agreement in the UN on a global target for 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

At current levels of carbon dioxide emissions, so much CO2 will be emitted over the next two decades that temperatures will rise more than 1.5 degrees. This is the reason AOSIS is calling for measures that would remove CO2 from the atmosphere later this century.

The key measures are protection of the world’s forests, drastically increasing the world’s forest cover and developing sustainable agriculture and forestry methods that act as a CO2 sink.

Fossil fuel use will have to be phased out in the next few decades worldwide. Carbon capture and storage technology, promoted by the fossil fuel industry, is still not a viable solution despite years of research and also faces strong opposition from citizens. AirClim has published several studies on CCS development, including articles in this issue.

AirClim is demanding that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced globally by more than 95 per cent by 2050, and in the European Union by 2030. AirClim calls on European governments to stop building new coal power plants from this year onwards. This is in line with statements from the International Energy Agency, which in 2013 demanded that by 2017 no new coal power stations should be built if the world wants to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees, as agreed by the UN. AirClim also demands that all old coal power plants in Europe must be closed by 2030. AirClim will co-publish a documentary and campaign film in spring called “1.5 to stay alive” to underpin the above targets.

Reinhold Pape

In this issue