COP26: What is the 1.5 degrees Celcius climate change target? What will happen if the world goes past 1.5 degrees of global warming?

The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow has left the crucial target of 1.5 degrees in tatters – here’s what it means.

COP26 has come to an end, with the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed by nations to “phase out” the use of coal.

The agreement has been criticised for watering down commitments which would make a real impact on fighting climate change.

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Unfortunately, the pledges made do not go nearly far enough to limiting global warning to 1.5 degrees – a crucial figure required to protect the planet.

But what does 1.5 degrees actually mean? Why is it so important? And would would happen if world temperatures rise beyond it?

What is the 1.5 degree target? Why is it so important?

Since the Industrial Revolution, the world’s average surface temperature has risen by around 1 degree Celsius.

It might sound like a tiny number, but it has had an enormous impact on nature and human life. Glaciers and ice sheets have melted, sea levels have risen, and extreme weather events are on the rise.

What does the 1.5 degrees global warming target mean for the world? Pictured: The Great Barrier Reef (Getty Images)

The vast majority of scientists agree greenhouse gases, released into the atmosphere by human activity, are the cause of this warming.

And scientists project limiting warming to 1.5 degrees would reduce the worst impacts of climate change.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 adopted at COP21 had a goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees – preferably 1.5 degrees. Countries also agreed to limit their CO2 emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050.

However, despite this landmark agreement, we are currently on track to a temperature rise of a shocking 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels before the end of the century.

What will happen at 1.5 degrees of global warming?

It’s important to remember, 1.5 degrees of global warming, while the best case scenario, is still quite grim.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts 1.5 degrees will see extreme heatwaves, oceans rising, and the destruction of 70 to 90 per cent of coral reefs.

This is why the 1.5 figure is so important, because it is where the line must be drawn. A greater rise in temperature would be catastrophic…

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What will happen at 2 degrees of global warming and beyond?

What is the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2? Well, a lot, according to the IPCC.

- At 2 degrees, seas will rise another 10cm on average by 2100 – causing flooding, habitat destruction, and dangerous weather events like hurricanes

- 1.7 billion more people will experience severe heatwaves at least once every five years

- 61 million more people in urban areas will be exposed to severe drought

- Several hundred million more people could become exposed to climate-related risks and poverty

- Coral reefs could decline as much as 99 per cent, sharply decreasing ocean biodiversity and impacting half a billion people

- Animals, plants, and insects will lose more than half their habitats

- Many species will go extinct – almost half the world’s species by 2100 if we carry on the way we are going

What have world leaders agreed at COP26? Are we on track for 1.5 degrees?

World leaders have negotiated a final deal at COP26, the most polluting conference of its kind.

As part of the Glasgow Climate Pact, nearly 200 countries agreed to strengthen their emissions-cutting targets for 2030 by the end of next year.

However, following a push from India and China, the deal was watered down at the last minute. Key wording of escalating the "phase out" of unabated coal was changed to "phase down".

Though it is the first explicit mention of fossil fuels in a UN climate agreement, the Glasgow deal would see a world well above 1.5 degrees warming.

It has been forecast that – even if all Governments meet their 2030 targets – we would have 2.4˚C of warming by 2100.

This has led to an outpouring of fury from environmentalists and climate campaigners.

Activists from Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future Scotland called COP “infuriating and disappointing” and Conservationist Chris Packham said “the world is going to hell in a handcart”.


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