What difference does half a degree Celsius make?
During the climate change negotiations in Paris in 2015, 195 governments commited to take binding measures to keep average global temperatures “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels and to “pursue efforts” to keep the increase under 1.5°C. While relieved that the 1.5°C target was explicitly mentioned in the Paris Agreement, Small Island Developing States, ocean advocates and many others are concerned the wording is not ambitious enough.
Prior to the COP21, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had demonstrated that a <1.5°C of global warming would be necessary to keep sea level from rising over 1 meter and to protect any coral reefs at all. 2°C of warming, by contrast, would obliterate Arctic sea ice and cause severe ocean acidification and marine species extinction.
Ocean experts likewise warn that anything over 1-1.5°C of warming would turn 90% of the world’s coral reefs into algae-strewn, limestone graveyards. If coral reefs disappear, the fish stocks they support will follow, leading to widespread food insecurity. In the words of Lisel Alamilla, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries & Sustainable Development in Belize,
“The world has to decide whether it wants to act now to save our oceans, or doom the state of our oceans.”
Dooming our oceans is not an option given the fundamental role they play in sustaining life on land.