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The urgency of 1.5 °C

Why 1.5°C?

The existential threat of climate change to some vulnerable and island countries was the spur for the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to 1.5°C. This stimulated scientists to focus research on 1.5°C.

Here's what we know:

Climate change impacts are happening now
The current ~1°C of global warming is already having impacts and causing damage including in the form of extreme and dangerous weather events – for example the global heatwave this summer, expansive wildfires and deadly hurricanes.  We need to adapt and build resilience, and this will only become more pressing at higher temperatures.

1.5°C is safer than 2°C for people and nature
We already know higher global temperatures lead to greater climate impacts – on land, in the oceans, and the in polar regions.  But we can now better quantify by how much. For example, nearly 700 million people (9.0% of world population) will be exposed to extreme heat waves at least once every 20 years in a 1.5°C world, but more than 2 billion people (28.2%) in a 2°C world.  Similarly in a 1.5°C world, the end of the century projection is that 70% of tropical coral reefs are at risk of severe degradation due to temperature-induced bleaching, but virtually all in a 2°C world.

Breaching 1.5°C is not inevitable
Political leadership is important. So are individual choices. Strong leadership and the right choices can lead to the necessary rapid and deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, which improves the chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C.  For example, governments encouraging renewable energy over fossil fuels and individuals choosing to eat a healthy, more plant-based diet. This is not to belittle the unprecedented scale of the challenge ahead but shows 1.5°C is not a lost cause.

“Net-zero emissions” are needed
It is better to not pollute in the first place, so rapid and deep cuts are a priority – these are necessary but not sufficient.  Actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to balance out any hard-to-mitigate residual emissions must also happen. We know that land-based carbon dioxide removal options such as forest restoration can have benefits over and above climate mitigation and are a better immediate focus than more technological removal options.  The balance between carbon emissions and carbon removals needs to happen globally around mid-century, and sooner in developed countries such as the UK.

The IPCC report on 1.5°C 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report has assessed the science of 1.5°C. It was released in October 2018.

The report outlines what it will take to keep global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels and underscores the critical need for urgent and transformative climate action as climate impacts increase in scale, frequency and intensity.

The IPCC is the UN body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change. This report will be the authoritative scientific underpinning to guide government policy decision-making as countries look to enhance their national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.

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