Keeping Climate Change to Just Two Degrees isn't Enough to Save Species

First Posted: Mar 27, 2015 06:23 AM EDT

There is an official target of keeping global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius. Now, though, a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has announced that this temperature change is "utterly inadequate" for protected those most at risk from climate change.

This announcement comes after discussions that were part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which took place in December 2014. These discussions revealed that while high-income countries insisted on a 2-degree target, low- and middle-income countries pushed for 1.5 degrees or lower.

"The consensus that transpired during this session was that a two-degree danger level seemed utterly inadequate given the already observed impacts on ecosystems, food, livelihoods and sustainable development," said Petra Tschakert, coordinating lead author of IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report, in a news release. "A low temperature target is the best bet to prevent severe, pervasive and potentially irreversible impacts while allowing ecosystems to adapt naturally, ensuring food production and security, and enabling economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."

The goal of 2 degrees Celsius originates from early studies in the 1970s. Since then, though, this target has been subject to repeated criticism from climate scientists, economists and political and social scientists.

In fact, the target is now being re-evaluated. However, no reference to an explicit 1.5-degree Celsius target is included in the 2014 Lima Call for Climate Action.

As temperatures warm, extreme events such as floods and hurricanes may cause high risk in a world that's 2 degrees warmer. These events would put populations in megacities like Lagos, Mexico City or Shanghai at risk.

"Using a figure for average global warming may indeed be the most convenient and compelling means to discuss the severity of climate change impacts, but not only does it inadequately capture the complexity of the climate system, it poorly reflects locally experienced temperature increases and the extreme and large variation across regions-no single person or any species faces a global average," said Tschakert.

The commentary is published in the journal Climate Change Responses.

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