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The two-degree target aims to limit global warming to below 2 degrees. The ambition was set at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico. Although it is most famous concerning the Paris Agreement. Which is the international agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees.

The Paris Agreement aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels”. To achieve this, the world must reach a global peak of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

What does the two-degree target mean?

The climate on Earth is getting warmer than natural following human activities. As many activities release greenhouse gases that heat the planet. To hinder this, there are international targets, such as the one on 2°C. It aims to keep global warming under a rise of two degrees. Normally, the temperature rise is counted from pre-industrial levels. Which is the average temperature before the 19th century and industrialisation. The latter is one of the most significant reasons for global warming today.

Furthermore, the 2°C target is generally about controlling the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Which is the most common greenhouse gas, released through for example the burning of fossil fuels. CO2 is usually measured in parts per million – ppm. To keep a sustainable level of CO2, the levels should be kept at 350 ppm. For example, in 2016, there was about 400 ppm in the atmosphere. If the development continues, we will reach 450 ppm somewhere between 2030 and 2040.

two degree target

What happens if there is global warming over two degrees?

It is difficult to predict the exact consequences of different degrees of warming. As a small change in any ecosystem can set off chain reactions for many other parts of the planet. Yet, one example that scientists stress is the survival of coral reefs. As a two-degree target risks killing 99 % of the world’s reefs. Partly due to this, the Paris Agreement sets its target at 1.5 degrees. There are too many unpredictable risks involved with warming above this.

Furthermore, global warming over two degrees can lead to a large increase in world hunger. As it would reduce harvests all over the world. More so, sea levels could rise by about 46 cm. Which is almost half a metre. Today, millions of people live along coasts and low-lying islands. Therefore, such a sea level rise would destroy the homes of millions of people. More so, create millions of climate refugees across the globe.

Another common example of global warming is that the glaciers will melt faster. This reduces the Earth’s albedo and allows dark seas to absorb even more heat from the sun. Leading to continuous and much faster warming.

The debate on the 2°C target

The debate around the catastrophic consequences of the two-degree target has changed the world’s ambition to a maximum of 1.5°C warming. However, today’s emissions are far away from reaching this goal. Furthermore, many believe even the 2°C target will be very difficult to achieve. Since there are still very high emissions combined with slow changes in policy. For example, a study in Nature suggests that there is a 5 % chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees.

Yet, it is important to remember that staying below 1.5 degrees is significantly better than 2. While two degrees is much better than 3 degrees, and so on.

Example of source: UNFCCC


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