The Push for A 1.5 Degree Ceiling

By Roy L Hales


The Guardian‘s headlines say it all. “Biggest Polluters Back Tougher Warming Target.” As EU spokeswoman Carole Dieschebourg said,  “We have a difficult week ahead. All the major issues are unresolved.” The United States, China and Canada have joined the push for a 1.5 degree ceiling in Paris.

AOSIS Targets

Sunset at Gili Trawangan, an archipelago of three small islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia by Jorge Láscar via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
Sunset at Gili Trawangan, an archipelago of three small islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia (photo illustrates danger of rising sea levels) by Jorge Láscar via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

This initiative started with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of the 44 small island states most vulnerable to rising sea levels.

They have just have released a joint press release describing their three priorities for this final week of COP 21:

“First, on mitigation, it is critical that the Paris Agreement establish long term temperature goal of well below 1.5-degrees, supported by appropriate and ambitious medium and long-term emissions reduction pathways.

“Second, Loss and Damage should be a stand-alone article in the agreement. Parties should agree to a permanent framework to address Loss and Damage that is anchored in the agreement and establish a process or system that is actually capable of doing so.

“Third, in terms of finance, tackling climate change and adapting to its impacts will require significantly scaled-up, new, additional and predictable financial resources, starting from a floor of $100 billion USD per year in 2020, with provisions to enhance SIDS access, especially to public, grant-based support for adaptation, given our unique challenges and the existential threat that climate change poses to us.

The majority of the delegates at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Bonn supported a ceiling of  1.5 degrees, but were blocked by Saudi Arabia.

Support For 1.5 Degrees Grows in EU

"JCH 6442 (22802505643)" by Presidencia de la República Mexicana - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.
President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, President François Hollande of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany & President Michelle Bachelet of Chile”JCH 6442 (22802505643)” by Presidencia de la República Mexicana Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

European nations started expressing support for the lower ceiling, again, last week.

On December 1, French President François Hollande announced his support for 1.5 degrees, explaining, “We cannot accept that the poorest countries, those with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, are the most vulnerable. It is therefore on behalf of climate justice that we must act.”

Two days later Jochen Flasbarth, the state secretary of Germany’s Ministry of the Environment, said, “The 2-degree goal is too little. 1.5 degrees must be mentioned in the climate treaty.”

On Monday, a  member of delegation from the European Parliament said that while he was not authorized to speak for the EU as a whole, “personally, of course I would prefer a 1.5 C target. At the end of the day, it will not be as expensive as the 2 C target, so if we can achieve a global agreement on this, let’s grab that chance.”

China,  the US & Australia Express Support

A Chinese spokesperson said, “We stand with other developing countries.”

China supports a 1.5C target, as well as the need  for the world’s richest nations to accept responsibility for the damages they have caused  the planet’s climate.

Two hours after his arrival in Paris Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed that 1.5 degrees is “a legitimate aspiration,” adding ” … I don’t think we can make it the embraced targetable goal because we lose people when we head that way, and we want to keep this moving in the right direction.”

Australia has also said it will support the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Canada Really is Back

"Catherine McKenna" by Tholden28 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons -
Catherine McKenna” by Tholden28 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

On Sunday, Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna “voiced support for the world trying to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius

A Ministry spokesperson told the ECOreport,

“The science is clear: climate change is the most pressing issue the world faces and collectively we must act now.

“By limiting global temperature rise as much as possible, the worst impacts of climate change will be avoided, including potentially devastating impacts on small island nations.

“While negotiations on the Paris agreement are still ongoing, Canada is supportive of a long term goal to keep warming as far below 2 degrees Celsius as possible.

“Canada is also supportive of striving towards limiting global warming to 1.5C.

“Canada is prepared to take real action to tackle climate change. We are committed to working with provinces and territories to develop a pan-Canadian framework. And Canada is ready to rise to the challenge to transform our economy to a cleaner low carbon one.”

This is a very different government from that of the previous administration, when the Guardian says Canada was “regarded as a Climate villain.” 

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius acknowledged this Sunday, by inviting McKenna to be one of the 14 Ministers who will help facilitate the final negotiations on a global climate change deal this week. Canada has not received a request like this for at least a decade.

Prior to the opening of COP 21, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demonstrated his support for the talks by pledging $2.65 billion to help developing countries tackle climate change.

This was followed by a series of announcements such as :

  • On Saturday, Dec 5,  Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said “I have instructed Canada’s Chief Negotiator for Climate Change and her team to strongly advocate for the inclusion in the Paris Agreement of language that reflects the importance of respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have also highlighted the importance of considering Indigenous traditional knowledge alongside scientific analysis.
  • That same day Canada pledged $50 million to the G7 Initiative on Climate Risk Insurance for  developing countries inflicted by “increasingly frequent natural catastrophes like severe flooding, droughts or heavy storms.”
  • Yesterday, Monday Dec 7,  the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, announced that Canada is contributing $150 million to the G7 African Renewable Energy Initiative “to work with partners to bring more renewable energy and access to electricity in Africa, where the needs and opportunities are important.”

Opposition to 1.5 Degrees

It is still not certain that a 1.5 degree ceiling will be adopted.

The most vocal opponents are oil rich Saudi Arabia and India.

“You have to look at this in the realm of possibility and you have to consider what are the ways in which this lowering from 2 degree to 1.5 can happen. Do we know all the technologies which can enable us to reach that? For all of us to agree to a number of 1.5? It could be 1.4, 1.8 degrees?” said India’s Environment Secretary Ashok Lavasa.

The negotiations will continue until COP 21 ends on December 11.

Top photo credit: Image from AOSIS press release of December 7

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