Healthy Climate Workstream

Last week, the global climate negotiations got a shot in the arm, when two of the world’s leading industrialized economies—Germany and France—signed up to the 1.5ºC target for maximum global average temperature rise. Next, Canada and Australia also signed up, then the United States, China, and the European Union. A majority coalition now supports 1.5ºC becoming the upper limit for global average temperature rise.

The lower temperature target, which is a higher and harder-to-meet standard, means governments must now chart a pathway to full carbon neutrality at an earlier date than most expected would be possible. The Paris agreement may now define anything above 1.5ºC as “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (the avoidance of which is the mandate of the 1992 Framework Convention) and so should call for worldwide carbon neutrality by 2050. (Read more…)

Mission of the Workstream

One of the crucial questions in the global climate negotiations is the setting of a long-term goal. The Healthy Climate Project operates on the basis of the technical understanding that we do, in fact, have the know-how to avoid and reverse dangerous climate disruption.

For this reason, the Healthy Climate Project team is working with the Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network, during the COP21, to elaborate a Workstream report on the long-term goal of reaching a balance between human activity and the Earth’s climate system, which can be described as “healthy”—conducive to good outcomes, both for human society and for natural systems, and resilient.

The most talked about long-term goal tends to be the “scientifically determined 2ºC threshold” for global average surface temperature rise above pre-indusrial levels. It is now understood that a number of small island nations will be at risk of disappearing below rising sea levels, if we reach 1.5ºC global average surface temperature rise.

Some believe the “temperature target” is too indirect, not easily enough tied to specific human actions. Some argue we should focus on 350 ppm—the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide molecules in Earth’s atmosphere. The big problem there is that we are already well past 350 ppm—around 400 ppm—and the geological record shows most of the history of the human species has coincided with levels closer to 280 ppm.

The question for many is: how do we rapidly reduce atmsopheric CO2 levels, once we stop emitting?

As heat-trapping (climate forcing) gases accumulate in Earth’s atmosphere, the oceans and atmosphere warm, and ice melts—on land and in the sea. As land ice melts, the water runs to the sea, and sea levels rise. Some argue for a sea level rise target—not more than 3 feet by the year 2100, for example.

But the question comes back again: what specific actions can we take to achieve that?

The most obvious is to stop emitting climate forcing gases: to “decarbonize” human activity. A number of Pathway to Paris working sessions, throughout 2015, have focused on decarbonization as the most salient long-term goal. The Elements Annex to the Lima Call for Climate Action and the Geneva Negotiating Text both included “full decarbonization by 2050” as a leading option for the long-term global climate policy goal.

In order to signal action, instead of sacrifice, many have called for a global movement to organize around the aim of achieving 100% renewable clean energy by 2050—another way to say full decarbonization.

The Healthy Climate Project starts from the knowledge that we need to decouple greenhouse gas emissions from economic progress, and then decarbonize the economy, but that we will also need to do more. The roadmap for doing this is their work.

This report will focus on where the negotiations stand, day to day, on setting a global long-term goal that ties into verifiable, effective climate action.