One figure is the most important in the fight against climate change: 1.5 degrees Celsius. Although it can be difficult to grasp the implications of a warmer world, the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius is significant. Let's take one example: Coral reefs are at risk of disappearing 70% at 1.5 degrees Celsius; corals will die at 2 degrees Celsius. At 1.5 degrees Celsius, 1 out of 100 Arctic summers will be free from ice; at 2 degrees Celsius, it's 1 out 10.
The COP26 climate conference in Glasgow is now close to the end. One of the most important questions it must answer is whether the 1.5 degree Celsius target was maintained. Boris Johnson, the UK's prime minister, has urged all countries to "pullout all the stops" in the coming days to keep 1.5 alive. A statement by the "high ambition alliance", calling for countries to make more ambitious climate pledges to 1.5 degrees Celsius in advance of COP27 has now been supported by 41 countries, including the United States.
The idea of not increasing short-term climate pledges in countries such as the Marshall Islands is not a good idea. They face extinction from climate change. Tina Stege (climate envoy for Marshall Islands), said that it was necessary to return to ensure that 1.5 degree Celsius is achieved by nationally determined contributions. "We must have something that brings us back to the table, until those targets are achieved."
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It can be difficult to understand how close we are from achieving the 1.5 degree Celsius target with all the contradictory messages that COP26 has been sending. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in an analysis last week, estimated that climate pledges at COP26 could limit global warming to 1.8 degrees Celsius by 2025. A separate analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), however, found that the current climate pledges could lead to a 2.4 degree Celsius increase in global warming by the end century. However, actual policies and actions on ground would put the world on track for a huge 2.7 degree Celsius warming. This is a path UN chief Antonio Guterres described as "catastrophic."
What's the problem? These projections are projections that, by their very nature, make assumptions about what will happen. The IEA assumed that all long-term net-zero pledges would be fulfilled and included top-level pledges such as the one to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
These pledges, however, are not included in the formal, shorter-term climate commitments of countries to the UN known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs.
Niklas Hohne, a coauthor of the CAT analysis and a partner at NewClimate Institute, said that CAT used the same assumptions as IEA when it came to the same numbers. He says, "We also have a very optimistic scenario which goes down to about 1.8 degrees Celsius by end of century, but we basically warn this is unlikely to happen." "Countries don't have enough short-term policies to help them move toward their net-zero goals. "The problem is in the short-term."