The world must limit global warming to 1.5 ºC to give the world's most vulnerable populations even a 50% chance of surviving the impact of climate change, former UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres said last week, as reported in Reuters.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, which Ms Figueres played a key role in engineering when she was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), had set a goal of limiting a rise in average world surface temperatures to "well below" 2 ºC above pre-industrial times, while "pursuing efforts" for 1.5ºC.
However, Ms Figueres told a London conference that exceeding a temperature rise of a max of 1.5 ºC would be disastrous, as it is the only temperature that gives a 50% chance “for the most vulnerable populations to survive the effects of climate change”, she said.
Those effects include climate shocks like flooding, cyclones, droughts and rising sea levels, while a 2 ºC rise would leave most of the low-lying Pacific islands, parts of Bangladesh, and all of New York City underwater, she noted. In that case, almost all of the Pacific would have no home.
Ms Figueres was speaking at a conference on women and climate change hosted by arts and science organisation Invisible Dust, reported Reuters.
Since the late 19th century, seas have risen 26 cm, driven by melting ice and the expansion of water due to climate change, according to UN data. Scientists predict a rise another meter or more by 2100, noted Reuters.
Pacific island nations are most at risk from rising sea levels, with low-lying islands facing an existential threat as most – or all – of their land could disappear.
Ms Figueres said she was disappointed when US President Donald Trump vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris deal a year ago. She pointed out that the withdrawal would leave the US at a competitive disadvantage as global competitors shifted away from polluting fossil fuels.
Countries will meet in Poland this December to discuss the Paris accord's implementation, including how to monitor emissions, said the Reuters report.