Here’s what happens if the world warms more than 1.5ºC and why you should care

By Yasmine Jacobs Time of article published Nov 14, 2021

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The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly known as COP26, concluded this week and it highlighted just how much havoc we have done to the planet.

COP26 came to an end in Glasgow. During the conference, there was a lot of talk about limiting global warning to 1.5ºC.

But what does 1.5ºC mean and why should you care about it? Why is it so important and would would happen if world temperatures rise beyond it?

So what is this 1.5ºC of global warming and what will happen?

The 1.5ºC of global warming number is the only the best case scenario yet is quite grim.

According to the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 1.5ºC will see extreme heatwaves, rise in sea levels as well as the destruction of up to 90% of coral reefs.

NPR climate correspondent Lauren Sommer explained at the summit how scientists got to that particular number.

“What the science shows is if there's warming above that level, the planet sees impacts that become, you know, catastrophic for communities. So, yeah, back in 2015, in Paris, countries agreed to limit their heat-trapping emissions to that goal, which is also 2.7 Fahrenheit.”

Sommer said before that, the goal was actually 2ºC. However, developing countries pushed for the lower number as they’re the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

“Heatwaves will get more intense as temperatures rise. At 1.5ºC, it's likely that 70 to 90% of coral reefs will die worldwide. But at 2ºC of warming, 99% are lost,” said Sommer.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who studies corals at the University of Queensland, has watched as the Great Barrier Reef has been hit by repeated marine heatwaves in recent years.

“Something around 50% of the shallow-water corals were killed literally over a couple of months, and in some cases, over a couple of weeks,” said Hoegh-Guldberg. He warned that we are “going down a pathway where there will be no return”.

If there is a voice in your head asking “Why should I care about coral reefs?”, Sommer had the answer to this as well, saying it is not just a vacation spot or a place for an Instagram picture.

“Around 500 million people depend on them for both food and livelihoods.”

Storms also get more extreme and more common above 1.5ºC. These storms destroy lives and livelihoods.

Gabriel Vecchi, who studies extreme weather at Princeton University, says in terms of weather, more and more things that are unheard of or have been unheard of will soon become relatively commonplace. Sommer added that an extreme heatwave is around 14 times more likely.

Sommer said the plans and promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions are not that close to the 1.5ºC target.

“The world is still on track for around 2ºC of warming, and that’s if countries actually follow through. And there’s a new report out today that shows if the world keeps emitting greenhouse gases at the current rates, there are only 11 years left until we’ve added enough to the atmosphere to cause that 1.5ºC of warming.”

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