Why do we need to limit global warming to +2°C or 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels?

Since 1870, the beginning of the industrial revolution, the global temperature has already increased by 0.8°C. Global warming has been happening faster in the second half of the 20th century and even more since 2000. If we want to have a chance of limiting global warming to +2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, all industrialised countries will need to limit their emissions to 40% by 2020, and global emissions should come down to zero by 2100.

Even if carbon emissions from human activity stopped overnight, the temperature would rise by another 0.8˙C, because it takes decades for the heat absorbed by the oceans to find its way to the atmosphere.  Scientists calculate that there is a 53 – 87% probability that the 2 degree target will be exceeded if global greenhouse gas emissions stay more than 25% above 2000 levels in 2020.

Beyond 2°C, most scientists agree that there would be irreversible changes and it would become almost impossible for humanity and ecosystems to adapt. Above 2°C, there could be 250 to 500 million climate refugees, leading to the largest humanitarian crisis ever. Further, it has been estimated that the economic costs of inaction would be between 5 and 20 per cent of global GDP by 2050.

The 20 countries that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, also called the “V20” now argue that staying below 1.5°C is a question of survival. With less than a 1°C temperature increase, many countries are already experiencing the most extreme weather events in history, such as the recent typhoons in the Philippines and Mexico, and the Island countries are seeing their land being threatened by sea level rise.

Why was the Paris agreement adopted at COP21 important?

The Climate Convention (UNFCCC) was adopted at the Rio summit in 1992. In 1997, in Kyoto, the very first legally binding instrument was adopted. The goal of the Kyoto Protocol was to reduce emissions by 5.2% by 2008-2012, compared to the base year of 1990. The Copenhagen summit (COP15) in 2009, was supposed to renew the committment with a “Kyoto II” agreement. But that didn’t happen, leaving a bitter sentiment among many smaller developing countries who lost trust in the democratic side of the UN system.

Over the following COP meetings it was agreed that the parties would aim for finalising a new global agreement by 2015, making that year the political deadline.

With the new geopolitical order and the emergence of large economies (e.g. India, China, Brazil, South Africa and Russia), it was important for the new climate agreement to include commitments from “older” industrialised countries but also from emerging countries.

On the 12th of December 2015, the world leaders from 195 nations agreed to the first universal climate agreement at the end of the COP21 summit in Paris. This agreement sets the ambitious goal of keeping us well below a 2°C global temperature increase, or 1.5°C, which will require deep emission cuts and efforts from all parts of society to avoid potential catastrophic changes.

2016 is already bringing deadly heatwaves in India, drought in southern Africa, record-breaking cyclones in the Pacific and coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

On Earth Day (22nd of April 2016),  175 nations  officially signed the historic Paris Climate Agreement in New York against a backdrop of growing voices calling for a just transition towards a world powered by 100 percent renewable energy. The official signing is a major milestone as it will open the ratification process. To come into force, the Paris Agreement needs to be ratified by at least 55 Parties, representing at least 55% of world emissions.

What we should aim for at COP22?

For us, the goal towards COP 22 and other upcoming meetings is to:

  • Ensure a just transition towards a low carbon economy, with the greening of jobs, access to training for green skills and a seat at the table for the union movement in the bargaining process;
  • Ensure protection for the most vulnerable people through a global goal for adaptation and a mechanism for loss and damage;
  • Set global and national targets of greenhouse gas emissions in a way that is both equitable and in line with science (global carbon budget to limit global warming to max 2°C and more ambitious national targets);
  • Ensure a clear and transparent mechanisms for reporting on implementation;
  • Scale up the mobilisation of public and private sources of finance to reach 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

Is the business community supporting a global climate deal?

There are signs of a shift from the view that there is a contradiction between the environment and the economy, that sustainability is a sacrifice. Big companies are divesting from coal and oil because of the financial risks and costs.

Political regulations on the economy, such as the upcoming COP21, forces the economy to keep within planetary boundaries and to a wave of innovation and technology. Various press articles showcase CEOs asking for a predictable carbon market on the long-term to drive innovation and investments into new technologies, see the Guardian article 90 companies cause 2/3 of global emissions. Even fossil fuel companies say they want a global climate deal.

There are also practical business examples such as from Ikea who recently announced that they would invest 1 billion euros for climate action, to develop renewable energy and help poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change. 

 What is a “just transition”?

  1. Participation: The scale of changes necessary to reach 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 demands engagement from all sections of society. Social dialogue, negotiation and participation underpin and reconcile social cohesion, quality employment, job creation and increased innovation and competitiveness. Only through consistent and stronger worker participation can change be managed in a socially acceptable manner.
  2. Jobs: There are no jobs on a dead planet, but equally there is no future for society without decent jobs and wages. Green and decent jobs can be created through investments in (new) low-carbon technologies, in R&D and innovation, and technology transfer. But it is not enough to focus on emerging ‘green’ sectors, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and waste management. There must also to be a decarbonisation of existing, sometimes ‘dirty’, sectors, with the creation or maintenance of jobs.
  3. Training & education: Government-led, active education/training and skills policies are fundamental to the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy. All workers should have access to education and training, regardless of their age, gender, employment status, or nationality. It is particularly important to enable groups such as the low-skilled, older workers and workers on temporary or part-time contracts, to develop their knowledge, skills and competences throughout their working life.
  4. Democratic rights: Respect for trade union rights and human rights is essential for a Just Transition. The right to represent workers’ and communities’ interests must be guaranteed in all countries.
  5. Social protection: Public policy must provide a safety net through active labour market policies, strong social protection and support measures. A European restructuring framework must include support mechanisms for workers who fall victim to economic change.

A just transition means achieving ambitious climate action in a way that benefits the whole of society and does not simply pile the costs on the least privileged.


How much do we spend on fossil fuel subsidies ?

It is estimated that governments spent 409 billion US dollars on subsidies for consumption and production of fossil fuels in 2010; 548 billion in 2013. This is amount is estimated to climb to around 600 billion US dollars a year in 2014, 2015. Fossil fuel subsidy reform is key to redirect funding towards clean sources of energy (See also this Report).