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Brave Talk: UN climate chief urges 1.5C limit

In remarks bound to frighten Northern governments, anger fossil fuel companies and hearten the world’s most vulnerable communities, UN climate chief Christiana Figueros has urged limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The current official target, agreed at last year’s climate summit in Cancun, is a 2 C rise above pre-industrial levels, which some scientists say could help humanity avoid the worst effects of climate change.

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The 1.5 C bombshell was reported in the Guardian by the excellent Fiona Harvey but, oddly, has apparently not been followed up by other mainstream news media: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/01/climate-change-target-christiana-figueres/.

This was Harvey’s second big climate scoop this week. On Monday, she broke the story that global carbon emissions rose in 2010 by a record amount, according to the International Energy Agency. The surge in 2010 emissions makes it “extremely challenging [for the world] to remain below 2 degrees,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, told Harvey.

So why is Christiana Figueres now urging an even stricter target of 1.5 C? Because, the UN climate chief explains, the latest science and the rash of extreme weather now unfolding in many parts of the world–which, let’s remember, is happening after “only” 1 C of warming–make it clear that “we are in big, big trouble” if we go beyond 1.5 C.

But if science and human survival suggest a 1.5 C target, big power politics and corporate business plans suggest something else. At the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, 112 governments representing some of the world’s most vulnerable nations likewise urged a 1.5 C target. “Anything above 1.5 C and we’ve had it,” Mohammed Nasheed, president of the Maldives and a leader of the Copenhagen effort, told me in Copenhagen. But opposition from the United States, China and other major carbon polluters blocked that initiative.

Now, perhaps anticipating the same objections that were voiced at the Copenhagen summit–that hitting a 1.5 C target is politically and economically unrealistic–Figueres admitted while appearing before the International Emissions Trading Association in Barcelona that hitting the target will not be easy. But the alternative, she argued, is to knowingly condemn much of humanity to all but certain death. “We can’t have as our goal something that we already know does not guarantee the survival of low-lying states and sub-Saharan Africa,” Figueres said.

We can’t? Certainly we shouldn’t. But the truth is that this is precisely the goal the international community is currently on record endorsing. Kudos to Christiana Figueros for being honest, and brave, enough to say so–and demand something better.

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One Response to “Brave Talk: UN climate chief urges 1.5C limit”

  • Tom says:

    As the extreme weather continues, it’s getting harder to avoid the people online manipulaitng fear about climate change to cash in. Solar flares, earthquakes, get your undeground shelter now before it’s too late and so on. Unfortunately, climate change seems to be the LAST thing the MSM cares about. You can get way more milage out of Rep. Weiner (no jokes allowed) than actual news.

    I’m moving soon and have to find a new electricity provider. There’s one that uses green energy sources and seems to offer decent kwh rates. However, what bothers me is corporate and govt. manipulation of this:

    The NRC and Sen. Boxer’s no-response attitude to obvious nuclear power problems.
    Corporate propaganda counterattacks to scare the public on climate change. Severe weather worldwide isn’t connected to global warming in any way.
    I’m noticing a lot of global warming critics are acting like little kids. No matter how much evidence you show them it’s like they refuse to pay attention.
    If a third world country tried to sue the States in the World Court for enivromental damages, how far would they get before Obama would laugh in their face?

    While I support green energy sources, balance that with trying to fund it in a depression. There’s no sign that Obama will stop the reckless borrowing and not raise the National Debt Ceiling. This tells me that he won’t win in 2012. If he does, it’s only because he outspent his opponent.


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Called "one of America’s finest reporters" by Barbara Ehrenreich, Mark Hertsgaard is the author of six books that have been translated into sixteen languages, including Earth Odyssey and On Bended Knee. He has covered climate change, politics and the media for leading media outlets around the world, including Vanity Fair, The Nation, Time, The New Yorker, NPR, L’espresso, Die Zeit and Le Monde Diplomatique.

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