Based on current policies, there is no hope of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
Compared to the conferences that came before it, Paris is going smoothly. So smoothly, relatively speaking, that there is still some sense of positivity amid the last-minute scrambling. As if to emphasize just how optimistic world leaders are feeling, negotiators released a draft agreement on Thursday that actually puts forward a more ambitious goal for global warming than many had expected going into the conference.
The draft text, released after marathon, around-the-clock negotiations, defines the purpose of the agreement as holding “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change.”
The language is a compromise—an acknowledgement that some people will suffer more than others at 1.5 degrees of warming that doesn’t go so far as to set a new target. But the real problem is it’s an empty gesture, serving as a reminder that when politicians aren’t on track to meet one of their climate goals, they will offer an even less realistic one.
Five years ago, nearly 200 countries agreed in Cancun to set a ceiling for climate change at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages. That target was always an aspirational red line: Today, the world is already 1 degree above pre-industrial averages and on track to blow past 2 in the next 20 years. At the same time, climate scientists and vulnerable nations have argued that anything above 1.5 degrees Celsius, and certainly above 2, will be devastating. The effects of climate change are disparate, so the world’s poor tend to get hit by its consequences long before the rich.