For the past five years, international climate change
negotiations have been guided by the
principle that the rise in global average temperatures
should be limited to "below 2C above pre-industrial levels".
Is this goal adequate? Probably not, according to
a report conducted
by the UN and launched at the climate change negotiations in
Containing the views of 70 scientists gathered
together in a process called the "
structured expert dialogue", the report warns that even
current levels of global warming - around 0.85C - are already
intolerable in some parts of the world. It says:
"Some experts warned that
current levels of warming are already causing impacts beyond the
current adaptive capacity of many people, and that there would be
significant residual impacts even with 1.5C of warming (e.g. for
sub-Saharan farmers), emphasising that reducing the limit to 1.5C
would be nonetheless preferable."
This report provides the evidence base for discussions
at UN level over whether the world is being ambitious enough on
long-term action to tackle climate change.
Climate talks in Bonn
While the message of the report is clear, it does not
close the current chasm between climate science and policy.
At UN climate negotiations
in Bonn last week, the report and its findings were subject to
intense scrutiny and discussion by diplomats from around the
It is these policymakers - not the scientists - who
get the final say on whether the findings become the new basis for
future political decisions, embedded in a new international climate
deal set to be signed at the end of this year in Paris.
The views of diplomats around the world differ widely
on how the findings of the report should be incorporated.
At the most hopeful end of the scale, countries want
to include an official decision that "there is a need to strengthen
the global goal on the basis of limiting warming to below 1.5C
above pre-industrial levels".
A minority would rather ignore the report - the
product of two years' work - altogether.
In any case, two weeks of discussions ended in an
outcome that most had hoped to avoid: just two short
sentences acknowledging that a report had been written,
and that countries would continue to discuss it when they meet
again in Paris.