Is It Time to Change How We Talk About 1.5C?

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When it comes to the collective goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C, there’s been only one acceptable talking point in the runup to the COP28 conference in Dubai.

“We need to show that the international community can deliver and send a clear signal that keeps 1.5 within reach,” COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber said on Oct. 30. At the Bloomberg New Economy Forum on Nov. 9, US climate envoy John Kerry described COP28 as “critical to open up the opportunity to keep 1.5 degrees alive.” A week later, the European Parliament penned a resolution in support of tripling renewable energy by 2030 and quickly phasing out fossil fuels to “keep 1.5C within reach.”

All of those appeals belie an uncomfortable truth: The planet is now 1.2C warmer compared to the pre-industrial era, and could surpass 1.5C in as soon a decade. James Hansen, a former NASA scientist who testified before Congress about global warming back in 1988, recently called 1.5C “deader than a doornail.” Although some will only do so privately, a growing number of scientists and policy experts agree.