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Don’t fall for the climate clickbait. The 1.5°C target is achievable and necessary.

The 27th UN Climate Conference (COP27) has begun, and so has the barrage of sloppy, apocalyptic headlines by major mainstream media outlets.

Cover from the UNEP Emissions Gap Report, 2022.

This is to be expected on the heels of a sobering Emissions Gap Report that finds government pledges are currently inadequate to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goals. One of the key statements of the report, that has now been misrepresented hundreds of times is that there is “… no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place.”

This statement is entirely true. No one expected that governments would bring 1.5°C compliant pledges to the table in Sharm El Sheikh. That doesn’t mean 1.5°C is off the table as a technically viable long term goal. The key phrase that so many seem to have missed is “in place.”

The Economist pounced particularly quickly on this misinterpretation, publishing a clickbait editorial subtitled “Global warming cannot be limited to 1.5°C,” which unfortunately has ricocheted around social media, confusing even people seemingly well briefed on the topic. I saw some “climate leaders” on LinkedIn weirdly celebrating the “death of 1.5°C” — as if this milestone would somehow make way for more “level-headed” responses to the climate crisis.

In my last post on climate doomerism, I explored the psychology behind this phenomenon. It is truly disturbing and short sighted. Thousands of civil society organizations, frontline communities, and the world’s most vulnerable nations have worked decades to install 1.5°C as a north star target for the UNFCCC — a political goal that cannot be taken off the table.

Why?

Because human societies will simply not be able to function much beyond this point of sustained global average temperature rise. Critical tipping points, or biophysical boundaries, could be crossed resulting in billions going hungry due to collapsing fisheries and prolonged drought while millions more are displaced by massive flooding events and sea level rise. We may see a temporary overshoot, but whatever is required at whatever cost, we will have to eventually get the world on a 1.5°C pathway this century.

So please stop saying 1.5°C is no longer viable. The only people who benefit from the “1.5°C is dead” meme are those representing the interests of fossil fuel companies and petrostates, who persistently drag out climate negotiations so they can eek out one more year of exorbitant profits (Chevron and Exxon just posted a 280% increase in profits). Despite their best efforts, and an enormously well-funded climate denial machine, 1.5°C is very much alive.. and kicking.

The One Earth Climate Model (OECM) and other ‘feasible’ Integrated Assessment Models featured in the excellent IISD report on low-overshoot transition scenarios (there are nearly 100), show a myriad of approaches to achieve the 1.5°C limit. The one thing these models have in common is that they call for a reduction in fossil fuel investments and a big ramp-up in funding for renewables (as well as a ramp-up in natural carbon removal).

And that’s just what we’re starting to see.. We’re at a major inflection point in the global economy. It may feel frustratingly slow at the moment, but the transformation is already underway, and it is accelerating rapidly. In the next post I’ll list out my top 6 reasons why we can be (somewhat) optimistic about solving the climate crisis.

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Karl Burkart

Karl Burkart

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Deputy Director One Earth, formerly DiCaprio Foundation Dir. Science & Technology