Victory: COP21 sets 1.5C 'long term temperature goal'

Saudi Arabia being awarded the 'fossil of the day' prize at COP21 last Thursday (Day 5) for trying to obstruct the goal to limit warming to 1.5C. Today, it looks like they lost. Photo: Takver via Flickr (CC BY-SA).
Saudi Arabia being awarded the 'fossil of the day' prize at COP21 last Thursday (Day 5) for trying to obstruct the goal to limit warming to 1.5C. Today, it looks like they lost. Photo: Takver via Flickr (CC BY-SA).
The latest text of the Paris Agreement on climate change published today sets 1.5C as its 'long term temperature goal', half a degree lower than previously agreed. It's a big victory for poor 'climate vulnerable' countries - and a blow for Saudi Arabia.
The momentum for raising the level of ambition in Paris now opens the exciting possibility for a truly historic and transformational summit. We call for more countries to join in the call for 1.5C to protect human rights globally.

The Paris climate conference today published a draft treaty that sets out a warming limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels as its "long term temperature goal".

That's half a degree less that than the 2C warming limit previously agreed as being a 'safe' level warming, but widely considered too high.

The inclusion of the 1.5C goal at this late stage of the process represents a major victory for the poor countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, and for climate campaigners.

In addition Article 2 ('Purpose') of the draft Paris agreement published at COP21 today offers two choices of wording to go into the next phase of negotiation: to aim for a maximum warming that's either "below 1.5C" or "well below 2C". Either choice represents an improvement of the current position:

"In order to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, Parties agree to take urgent action and enhance cooperation and support so as: (a) To hold the increase in the global average temperature [below 1.5C] [or] [well below 2C] above pre-industrial levels by ensuring deep reductions in global greenhouse gas [net] emissions ... "

Clause 17 of the Draft Decision also "[Notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels resulting from the INDCs in 2025 and 2030 do not fall within least-cost 2C scenarios, and that much greater emission reduction efforts than those associated with the INDCs will be required in the period after 2025 and 2030 in order to hold the temperature rise to below 2C or 1.5C above pre-industrial levels;]".

But while Clause 17 is all in square brackets, indicating that it could be negotiated out, Clause 20(bis) - which is not in square brackets - sets a firm 1.5C as a "long term temperature goal".

In it the Conference of the Parties "Requests the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide a special report [in 2018] [in 2019] on the impacts of global warming of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels and the global greenhouse gas emission pathways required to achieve the long-term temperature goal".

Defeat for Saudi Arabia

As well as representing a big victory for climate change vulnerable nations, the emergence of the 1.5C goal into the text also represents a defeat for Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a campaign to sabotage attempts by countries on the front line of climate change to include the 1.5C target for global warming.

On Thursday night the oil producing giant blocked efforts to include references in the Paris deal to a UN report that says it would be better to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels rather than the current 2C target.

The Climate Action Network yesterday named Saudi Arabia 'Fossil of the Day'. A spokesman said: "The Saudi delegation here in Paris is doing its best to keep a meaningful mention of the 1.5 degree global warming limit out of the agreement.

"The Saudis are trying to torpedo three years of hard science, commissioned by governments, that clearly shows 2 degrees warming is too much for vulnerable communities around the world. Saudi Arabia is fighting tooth and nail to ensure the Paris agreement basically says, 'thanks, but no thanks' to 1.5 degrees warming."

Sven Harmeling, CARE International's climate change advocacy coordinator, told Desmog UK: "Saudi Arabia is blocking these very substantive discussions going forward and [from] allowing ministers to understand what's going forward."

"Overall we see increasing support for including the 1.5 limit in the Paris Agreement, with more than 110 countries in support, although some countries see it only in connection to below 2 degrees language. That adds pressure to those who see their fossil future threatened by a truly ambitious target."

"However, Saudi Arabia may also want to use this to bargain on other issues which the vulnerable countries might not, e.g. in relation to other issues of the mitigation ambition package (such as long-term emission reduction goal), or response measures which is about the impacts of emission reduction i.e. reduction of fossil fuel consumption."

Rich and poor nations unite around 1.5C temperature rise limit

Emmanuel de Guzman, head of the Philippines delegation, said: "The momentum for raising the level of ambition in Paris now opens the exciting possibility for a truly historic and transformational summit. We salute France and Germany and call for more countries to join in the call for 1.5C to protect human rights globally."

Todd Stern, the US special envoy for climate change, told reporters today that concerns raised by island nations over passing a 1.5C global warming temperature rise threshold are "legitimate".

"We are in active discussions with the islands and others about finding some way to represent their interests in having 1.5C referenced [in the Paris text] in some way", Stern said. "We haven't landed anywhere yet but we hear the concerns of those countries and we think these concerns are legitimate."

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also come out in favour of a strong target. When asked about the 2C target today at the COP21 conference, Bloomberg said: "I don't know if that's the right target. The target should be zero [emissions] or reducing."

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate and Development, argued that the difference between a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees and two degrees "is roughly 1.5 million people who will fall through the cracks and most of them will be in vulnerable and developing countries."

Thoriq Ibrahim, the Maldives envoy and chair of the alliance of small island states (AOSIS), said the 1.5C was a "moral threshold" for his country.

Wealthy nations - including Germany, France and now the United States - all signalled support for including references to the lower target in the final text as negotiators reached the end of the first week of negotiations.

The next struggle: climate finance

Meanwhile, OPEC oil producing countries are also attempting to block language on turning economies away from fossil fuels - something generally agreed by everyone else in the negotiations.

In the latest draft text published today, questions of finance remain aspirational, with no figures and numerous alternative texts and options to be debated over the coming week.

Saudi Arabia is the 13th richest country in the world yet it refuses to make any financial contribution to the fight against climate change - this is despite claims to represent the poorest developing nations and support the end of fossil fuels.

In contrast, countries with smaller economies than Saudi Arabia - including the UK, EU, France, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Germany - have already contributed climate finance and will continue to do so.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi leader, did not speak at the COP21 opening on Monday. But Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi, the Saudi Minister of Oil, has said:

"In Saudi Arabia, we recognise that eventually, one of these days, we are not going to need fossil fuels. I don't know when, in 2040, 2050 or thereafter. The kingdom [plans] to become a 'global power in solar and wind energy' and could start exporting electricity instead of fossil fuels in coming years."

Saudi Arabia says it will make some investment in renewables and slowly reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. The country is the world's 10th largest CO2 emitter - more than the UK, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and France - and it has failed to make any emission reduction pledge.

What's more, there is a strong caveat within Saudi's climate pledge, which points out the country still relies on a "robust contribution from oil export revenues to the national economy".

Saudi is also looking to water down language about aligning broader financial flows to be compatible with climate objectives - ensuring that revenues raised by oil do not go back into polluting investments - which will be essential if there is to be a managed and orderly clean economic transition.



This article is an updated version of one originally published on

Kyla Mandel and Brendan Montague write for Follow Brendan @brendanmontague . Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.


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