Vulnerable Countries Demand More Stringent Greenhouse Cuts

Some 140 of the world’s 196 countries – more than 70 percent – have demanded a more ambitious global warming target of 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times against a 2C target being sought by countries attending the United Nations-sponsored Congress of Parties in Paris this week. They were joined in an unprecedented move by Canada and Australia have now stated their support on this target.

However, according to Philippine negotiator Tony La Vina, 1.5C remains a challenge inside the negotiations despite the growing numbers of support. “It is politically accepted but 1.5 is still a challenge inside the negotiations. There are still big countries who are not budging,” La Vina said.

Currently, those leading the opposition to the target include emerging economies like Brazil and China. But the major opponent would have to be Saudi Arabia which, at a stocktaking on Dec. 4, said the kingdom would only accept “science proven by the IPCC,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an intergovernmental body under the United Nations that produces reports supporting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The demand for a 1.5C target, however, sets up a seemingly insoluble conundrum. Most economists believe even the 2C target set for the Paris talks is unachievable under current scientific and governmental standards without wrecking the world’s leading economies. The unspoken word among world leaders that the 2C standard will be ignored without dramatic advances in technology.

However, more scientific studies are coming out about the dangers of a 2C world. A study by a team of 17 climate scientists, led by James Hansen, a former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, indicated that even 2 degrees of warming is "highly dangerous" and could cause sea level rise of "at least several meters" this century, leaving most of the world's coastal cities uninhabitable.

Just this November, new scientific data showed that the world is to enter "unchartered territory" as earth is expected to have warmed by 1C by the end of 2015 – three weeks from now. Accordingly, with the release on Dec. 5 release of the latest draft of the proposed Paris climate deal Oxfam released its own report asking the Asian countries, and particularly ASEAN, to get behind global greenhouse gas limitation or face sea-level rise, coastal flooding and saltwater intrusion related to climate change that threaten farming in major deltas, potentially affecting the lives and livelihood some 3.5 to 5 million people in Asia. esof the l Calls for strong adaptation for Asian countries mounted after the release of the latest draft of the Paris climate deal last Saturday, December 5.

The 21-page draft climate agreement puts climate change adaptation inside brackets meaning it will still be negotiated by ministers and has a danger of being deleted.

According to Oxfam’s 2014 report titled “Can’t Afford to Wait: Why Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation plans in Asia are failing millions of people”, the region accounted for 41% of recorded disasters and 64.5% of people affected by disasters globally.

Sea-level rise, coastal flooding and saltwater intrusion related to climate change also threaten farming in major deltas, potentially affecting the lives and livelihood some 3.5 to 5 million people.

Vatican support for 1.5?

The Philippine lead negotiator and climate change commissioner Emmanuel de Guzman is said to have met with the Vatican delegation to discuss 1.5. Although no official statement has been said, de Guzman said that the Vatican has been positive.

“They were very receptive on the 1.5 goal,” de Guzman said. “We elaborated the importance of this goal as being founded on human rights and hopefully we will hear something from the Pope within the week. We emphasized that this is about survival and keeping humanity alive and thriving, as well as the preservation of our ecosystem.”

However, during the high level meeting on Tuesday morning, the Vatican still used the “below 2 degrees” language and not 1.5.

Why 1.5 should be the goal

For many countries like the Philippines and other small island states like Tuvalu and Kiribati, a difference of 0.5 warming spells the difference between life and death. At 0.8 degrees of warming, extreme weather events like typhoon Haiyan, hurricane Patricia, and extreme heatwaves in India have claimed thousands of lives.

“Already, so many lives have been lost that should not have been lost,” says Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace, adding that it will take a lot of political will to achieve ambitious goals like 1.5.

“Nature does not negotiate, we cannot change the science. The only thing we can change is political will. If not now, when? If not us, who?” he said.

“They need to realize that it’s not about saving the planet. The planet does not need saving. If we continue the path that we are and we do not get a fab deal, the planet will still be there. Don’t worry about the planet, this struggle is about humanity, about our children and children’s children,” Naidoo added.

Political statements do not necessarily turn into anything concrete inside negotiations. So while many countries have stated their support on the 1.5 degree goal, the question is if they will turn this into concrete action and include an ambitious long term goal in the climate agreement.

Renee Juliene Kurungunan and Jed Alegedo are climate activists attending the Paris talks