Below 1.5 degrees target is only way to provide a safe future

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The devastation wrought by extreme weather-events will only increase if a more ambitious target is not adopted. [DG ECHO/Flickr]

Europe must stand by vulnerable nations and support the 1.5 degrees global warming target in the Paris agreement, writes Emmanuel De Guzman.

Emmanuel De Guzman is the Philippines’ chief negotiator at the COP21 summit and vice-chairman of the Climate Change Commission.

The world will cement complacency and inertia at a Paris climate conference this week, if countries lock in a target to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, under a new global agreement. 

It is hard to imagine living under the constant threat of climate-induced extreme weather events. Yet this is the reality I have lived in even before I became chief climate negotiator for the Philippines. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan killed 7,000 people in the Philippines and left 4 million homeless – an event scientists say will occur more frequently with climate change.

The Philippines chairs the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), an alliance of countries most vulnerable to climate change. Extreme weather is one threat many of us face. Other members such as Kiribati and Tuvalu are threatened with rising sea levels. We are all affected by the impact of rising heat on health and productivity in the work place.

A sub-set of 20 CVF members active in the Forum since 2009-2011 already suffered collective costs of 50,000 lives and an average of 2.5% of our GDP, as a result of less than 1 degree of global warming. These costs will rise substantially by 2030.

But small island states and developing countries are not the only ones suffering from the threats we expect from climate change. 

Europe has seen more frequent floods in the UK and Germany, extreme heat waves have hit southern countries like Spain, Italy and the South of France, while the threat of rising sea levels haunts the Netherlands. 

In Paris, countries are meeting this week to reach a new, ambitious, global climate agreement. Almost all countries have pledged action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, showing unprecedented solidarity. But we must go even further, to narrow a gap between these national pledges and what scientists tell us is necessary to avoid a climate crisis. 

The pledges countries have submitted so far, for climate action beyond 2020, will still lead to global warming of three degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Scientists confirmed on many occasions that such warming will result in catastrophe. 

A recent UN review of the climate challenge found that even 1.5 degrees warming entailed huge risks: half of coral reefs would disappear, global sea levels would rise by around one metre, most Arctic sea ice would disappear and food security risks remained. 

Clearly the present climate pledges do not go far enough. Even an internationally agreed target to limit global warming to below two degrees ignores the advice of scientists. 

That is why at the launch of the Paris summit last week the CVF called for the world to shift to a below 1.5 degrees global warming limit.

To follow these words with action, we announced that we would upscale our domestic ambition, and support the adoption of goals for 100% renewable energy and a full decarbonisation of the world economy by 2050.

Europe has been a powerful voice for solidarity with the world’s poorest nations, and ambition on climate change. Last summer, Germany fought for a G7 commitment to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions over the course of this century. In the past, Europe has spearheaded international agreement on the two degrees target.

Now the world’s most vulnerable nations are again seeking help from their most important ally in the climate negotiations. We ask the EU to support our call for a 1.5 degrees target to be enshrined in the Paris agreement, and for the “more immediate mitigation action” that this will require to achieve, as outlined in science, including in the context of the EU INDC.

All countries – including our own – have shown willingness to do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions. We stand ready to increase our own targets, as we learn from experience of and benefit from support from rapidly decarbonising developed countries like in the European Union. 

We must join efforts and learn from each other in adapting to the changes to our climate that we can no longer avoid. We must become more climate-smart. In the Philippines, for example, our farmers must grow more resilient crops than coconuts, such as sweet potatoes. 

We further ask the EU to continue its partnership with developing countries in helping to adapt, through partnership with our Vulnerable Twenty Group of Ministers of Finance. The V20 initiative aims to build our own capacity to mobilise and utilise climate finance for greatest possible impact.

Now, we need the EU to support greater ambition by joining our call to all countries to agree to increase their ambition every five years, staring with a first revision before 2020.

In Paris, business, investors, cities and regions have already shown extraordinary ambition, where corporate and civic leaders tell us that they are already doing what we ask of nations to become carbon neutral, in a groundswell of action which is showing our leaders what is possible. 

We now ask the EU to show the same courage, imagination and political will, to lead the world. The only way to ensure that this unprecedented global agreement will provide a safe future for us, our economies and our families, is a global temperature target of below 1.5 degrees.

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