Limiting global warming to 2 degrees 'inadequate', scientists say

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Holding global warming to a 2-degree Celsius temperature rise – the cornerstone of an expected new global climate agreement in December – will fail to prevent many of climate change’s worst impacts, a group of scientists and other experts warned Friday.

A man walks through the dried-up bed of a reservoir in Sanyuan county, Shaanxi province July 30, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

With a 2-degree temperature hike, small islands in the Pacific may become uninhabitable, weather-related disasters will become more frequent, workers in many parts of the world will face sweltering conditions and large numbers of people will be displaced, particularly in coastal cities, the experts warned.

The 2-degree goal is “inadequate, posing serious threats for fundamental human rights, labor and migration and displacement” the experts said in a series of reports commissioned by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of 20 countries chaired by the Philippines.

Some group members, particularly Pacific island states, have previously asked for a lower temperature target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“The reports underscore just how much difference even half a degree of additional heat makes for people’s lives, for working conditions and for the movement of people,” Mary Ann Lucille Sering, who heads the Philippines Climate Change Commission, said in a statement.

“How can we possibly subscribe to more than double current warming given what less than 1 degree Celsius has entailed?”

The Philippines has suffered from a series of devastating typhoons in the past few years, and “arguments not to strengthen our aims (on curbing climate change) start to wear thin,” she said.

According to scientists, rising temperatures - which have so far jumped less than 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times - are already bringing an increase in the frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters around the world.

Those disasters, combined with sea level rise related to rising temperatures, threaten to put coastal cities at risk and lead to more displacement and migration “with devastating consequences,” said Walter Kaelin of the international Nansen Initiative on disaster- and climate-induced displacement.

“The effects of climate change on human mobility are a global reality that keeps growing in complexity and proportion,” Kaelin, who formerly represented the U.N. Secretary-General on the rights of the internally displaced, said in the report.

He suggested a review of the 2-degree climate goal is needed.

John Knox, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment who led the production of the report, also said a 2 degree Celsius or higher rise in global temperature presented too high a risk.

“Even moving from one to two degrees of warming negatively affects the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights,” he said, and will make it more complicated for countries to “respect, protect and promote human rights.”

In December, negotiators from countries around the world will meet in Paris to agree a new global pact to curb additional climate change and deal with its impacts. Part of that agreement will include a decision on whether the current goal of holding global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is adequate.

Measurements of existing climate-changing emissions, and emissions reductions pledges already in place by governments, suggest the world is currently on a path toward a 4-degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2100, scientists say.