What does the 2 degree target mean for climate change and climate policy?
One goal of the upcoming COP21 negotiations is to achieve a binding agreement that limits the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. A goal that is almost impossible to achieve. But each emission reduction counts.
A maximum of two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels – global warming should not get any higher than this. That is the officially declared aim the negotiations at the next UN Conference of Parties (COP 21) at the end of November 2015 in Paris will commence with. But what does the 2-degree target mean for climate change and climate policy? And what will happen if it is not achieved? Current measurements show that the average global temperature has already increased by about 1 degree since 1880 – and with appreciable consequences: Rising sea levels are becoming an increasing hazard for coastal cities. Heat waves such as the one in the summer of 2003 are now ten times more likely to occur than they were a decade ago.
Ultimately, the 2-degree target is a scientifically reasonable and politically agreed-upon benchmark ensuring that the risks from climate change will not spiral out of control. There is consensus among leading scientists: the greater the rise in the average global temperature, the more likely it is that climate change will cause serious and irreversible damage. The participants at the climate negotiations in Paris face a Herculean task: What is at stake is nothing less than a commitment on the part of all the 194 UN member states to a binding framework that will effectively reduce emissions of greenhouse gases as fairly as possible, ensuring that the rise in global temperature will be kept below 2 degrees. Yet, the climate is already changing today, and due to the long residence time of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (in some cases for over 100 years), these changes will continue.
Nevertheless: Even an increase in global warming of between 1 and 2 degrees will influence the frequency and intensity of weather catastrophes. That is why it is so important to drive adaptation-efforts to climate change forward, along with the introduction of mitigation measures (reduction of emissions).
Amongst other things, this could take the form of technical flood protection, the development of new farming systems, or even the establishment of new insurance systems to deal with the financial consequences. In particular for emerging and developing countries, climate insurance is an efficient - and quickly installable way to cushion the economic impact from natural catastrophes, and secure better opportunities for sustainable economic growth. Further information on climate change topics you can find here.