World leaders adopt 1.5 C goal — and we’re damn well going to hold them to it

Bill McKibben writes: Here’s the crucial plaintive paragraph from the preamble to the Paris climate agreement released today, written in the almost indecipherable bureaucratese that attends this international circus:

Emphasizing with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C …

What it says is: The world is a doughy fellow who has promised to drop three suit sizes in time for his wedding, which is now only a month away. The world is an anxious student who has to ace the next morning’s test to pass the course but hasn’t yet started to study. The world has promised his kids a great raft of presents under the tree, but now it’s suddenly Christmas Eve and the shops have started closing.

The “significant gap” is the crucial thing. In the agreement, the world promises to hold the rise in the planet’s temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. Heck, it promises to aim for 1.5 degrees, which is extraordinary. It’s what actually needs to be done; if we succeeded, it might just head off complete calamity. (We’re now at 1 degree above average pre-industrial temperatures, and considering what that’s already done in terms of melt, flood, and drought, 1.5 C will still be trouble, but maybe manageable trouble.)

But once you get past the promises part, the actual plans submitted by various governments commit the world to a temperature rise of 3.5 degrees, which is more or less the same as hell. It’s a broken planet. [Continue reading…]

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