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THE ECONOMIST: The world is going to miss the totemic 1.5°C climate target

It needs to face up to the fact

Nov 5th 2022

Three strikes and you’re out is a pretty good rule. And the politicians and negotiators attending the Paris climate summit, “cop21”, in December 2015 were facing their third strike. Their first and second attempts to bind the world into a meaningful pact that would control greenhouse-gas emissions—in Kyoto in 1997 and in Copenhagen in 2009—had failed. If on their third time at bat they could do no better, the world was cooked.

There was thus immense pressure on all at the conference to achieve a robust outcome. And a group of politicians and policymakers representing some of the world’s poorest countries had a very specific and controversial requirement for what it should contain. James Fletcher, of St Lucia, recalls that he and his fellow representatives of Caribbean states were “very clear in our minds that 1.5°C was a red-line item. It was one of the things that we said kind of silently: that we would be prepared to walk away from the negotiations if there was a sign we would not be getting a reference to 1.5°C in the Paris agreement.”

Many island states had the same red line. Their reasoning was simple. For a country like the Maldives, with more than 80% of its land rising less than one metre above sea level, more than 1.5°C (2.7°F) of global warming would see most of its sovereign territory disappear. Some continental countries which felt themselves at particular risk, or felt a particularly strong sense of solidarity, embraced the cause too. Third-strike make-or-break Paris was the perfect place to take a stand.


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