With 2º C Increasingly Unlikely, The Chorus Gets Louder For 1.5

PARIS — A 2ºC rise in global temperature is already baked into the atmosphere, some scientists warn, but diplomats have clung to it as a useful target to focus political aims—clung to it even knowing that 2º is too hot for some.
"The below 2º is not what over 120 countries that are the most vulnerable countries are asking for. They’re asking for a target that operationalizes 1.5 or keeps the door open to 1.5," said Farina Yamin, a negotiator for a coalition of small island nations, just after emerging from a summit between those nations and President Obama.
Obama announced the U.S. will contribute $30 million to climate risk insurance initiatives in the Pacific, Central America, and Africa. The G7 nations pledged this summer to provide insurance coverage for 400 million people likely to suffer the most severe impacts of climate change.
But the island nations also want any Paris agreement to acknowledge, if not strive toward, the 1.5º limit that offers them greater hope.
"The 1.5 being missed off is a huge problem in the negotiations," Yamin said.
One scientist, Andrew Jones of Climate Interactive, asked Yamin what scientists could do to support these nations. "Be very direct with us, please," he said. "Tell us what to do and not to do."
And Yamin was direct:
"There hasn’t been enough analysis from the scientific community, from the scientific-technical-economic community of the 1.5 pathway. And that’s what we need. From the IPCC, all the underlying scenarios, there isn’t enough.
"And that is, I’m going to be frank, scandalous. It’s scandalous. That there isn’t enough—and why all the reports don’t mention what’s needed for countries that face existential threats below 2º.
"So I appeal to you as to please make good on that lack of analysis. It’s not done. It's not done."
Jones began a reply: "Even if the emissions reductions happened really really fast—"
"You guys are the modelers and the scenario makers," Yamin said, "but I know as a social scientist that those models have many many assumptions and in many cases after 5 to 10 years they’re all wrong. They do not predict human ingenuity, they do not predict the change that is needed."
Then Miranda Johnson of the Economist asked if it made sense to continue to pursue temperature goals that scientists find implausible.
"I’ve spoken to many people about the 2º goal very recently, and there seems to be consensus that we’re not going to reach it anyway," she said. "Are we wasting political capital trying to lock in a goal that actually is scientifically tenuous?"
It was the right question for Yamin, who is also the founder of track0.org, an organization that wants to shift the UN's aim from a temperature target to net zero carbon emissions.
"The 2º goal has been so useful for 20 years. It's provided us in the technical community with a mark that might represent a dangerous level of climate change while the rest of the world has squabbled or had these discussions. It's been very, very useful. What's happened in the last five to 10 years actually we've realized there are massive impacts below that."
Setting a 1.5º target is a way of acknowledging those impacts on vulnerable countries, she said.
"My own position is that the metric must match the mission. Now we know, actually, that what banks, businesses, CEOs want is not 2º or 1.5º, they want to know what do I do with my emissions? That's why focusing on saying zero emissions is pretty clear."
Yamin predicted the Paris agreement will include an emissions-focused goal. Negotiators are debating the language, she said—climate neutrality, decarbonization, carbon neutrality, net zero—as well as the time frame—mid-century, 2050, end of the century, as early as possible in the second half of the century.
Those who want to hold global temperature rise to 1.5º C call for zero emissions by 2050.

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