Global warming above 1.5C could be ‘a death sentence’ for some countries, expert warns

Climate experts said the consequences will be “exponential” and could make life along some coasts and islands “impossible”

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Exceeding 1.5C of global warming will have “exponential consequences” and could be a “death sentence” for some countries, a climate expert warns.

Yamide Dagnet, climate director at Open Society Foundations, told NationalWorld that global temperatures of 1.5C would in itself be “really bad and have some existential effects”, but the consequences of just a one degree rise would be “way more severe”.

The warning comes following the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made clear there is very little chance of keeping the world from warming by more than 1.5C - a threshold governments had previously agreed to act to avoid.

The world has already warmed by 1.1C and experts say it is likely to breach 1.5C in the 2030s.

The report warned that with sustained warming of between 2 and 3C, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will be lost "almost completely and irreversibly" over multiple millenia. Many other thresholds will be crossed at low levels of heating, impacting things like the world’s glaciers.

Sea level rises and extreme weather could also make life along some coasts and islands “impossible”, Professor Joy Singarayer, climate scientist and joint head of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, added.

To keep warming in or around 1.5C by 2100 governments need to up their commitments before 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

Exceeding 1.5C of global warming will have “exponential consequences”, a climate expert warns. (Image by NationalWorld/Mark Hall) Exceeding 1.5C of global warming will have “exponential consequences”, a climate expert warns. (Image by NationalWorld/Mark Hall)
Exceeding 1.5C of global warming will have “exponential consequences”, a climate expert warns. (Image by NationalWorld/Mark Hall)

‘Every inch of degrees matters’

Ms Dagent said that the most vulnerable countries, especially small islands, have “fought very hard to make sure that the threshold is 1.5C globally” and this figure “already means 2C in some places.”

She explained: “For example, in New York when it is really warm, it is going to be even hotter in the poorest places where the most marginalised people live and don’t have a lot of trees in their backyards. I think it’s very important to understand that this 1.5C is already really bad and will have some existential effects.

“Exceeding that boundary will have not only existential consequences for some countries, but even more rapidly so - and will not enable those countries to even repair.”

She said if global temperatures rise above 1.5C it could be a “very unjust death sentence” to those poorer countries who have “not only not contributed to the problem but have volunteered, when they didn’t have to, to actually be the solutions.”

Ms Dagnet added that “every inch of degrees matters” and it is important to keep the threshold to “avoid the complacency that many key corporate sectors would like us to shift into.”

Meanwhile Professor Singarayer spoke of how “incredibly moving” it is to “listen to people from nations such as Kiribati, an island state in the South Pacific, whose homes and culture is at risk of being wiped out.”

She said the UK needs to remember that “the British Isles are not immune to sea level rise, and our coastal communities are susceptible too.”

She called on governments "to speed up the transitions they have committed to” by “moving economies away from fossil fuels”.

‘Climate extremes will be more widespread’

Adaptation Committee Chair Baroness Brown said the IPCC report highlighted that “every increment of warming means climate extremes will become more widespread and more pronounced.”

She said if emissions are not cut then the "likelihood of abrupt or irreversible changes increases with higher global warming levels and our ability to adapt becomes increasingly limited.”

The UK is already experiencing the impacts of climate change from Storm Arwen and the heatwave in summer last year with 40C temperatures, leading to disruption in the NHS and 3,000 or so heat-related deaths. Additionally, people lost their homes last week in Norfolk as they had to be destroyed or pushed over cliffs due to coastal erosion.

Baroness Brown added: “Even if we take the actions required we are likely to exceed 1.5C quite possibly in the early 2030s, and we need to remember that temperatures will go on rising for the next 30 years or so driving climate change until we meet that net zero target.

“There is a lot of climate change still to come even if we are on a good net zero pathway.”

Ms Dagnet argued that the world leaders have not shown that they are ready to do what it takes to keep global warming in or around 1.5C and it is “unacceptable”.

She said: “It was clearly achievable 20 years ago, but we seem to act as if it was 20 years ago and this is not acceptable.

“The behaviour of the world leaders and most of the population of this globe is not sustainable. It is not realistic for what we are supposed to be doing with the resources that are at our disposal.”

The authors of the IPCC report say it will be impossible to meet the internationally agreed target of stopping the global average temperature exceeding 1.5C above pre-industrial levels if CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure are not reduced.

They say drastic emissions cuts across all sectors of society are needed to reach this target, but some difficult-to-decarbonise industries, such as aviation, shipping and agriculture will have to be supported by carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).

A government spokesperson said: “[The IPCC] report makes clear that nations around the world must work towards far more ambitious climate commitments ahead of Cop28. The UK is a world leader in working towards net zero, but we need to go further and faster.

“That is why we are committing to building more wind, solar and nuclear capacity, as well as driving forward hydrogen and CCUS, supporting up to 480,000 well-paid green jobs, and leveraging up to £100 billion of private investment by 2030.

“This will bolster our energy security and help ensure we bring down wholesale electricity prices to among the lowest in Europe.”