In global climate change fight, half a degree could make all the difference

Sea water flooding in Kiribati.

The islands of Kiribati are already feeling the effects of climate change and may soon be completely covered by water due to seawater flooding. (© Ciril Jazbec)

Two degrees Celsius.

It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the limit for global temperature increase set by policy makers. The problem? It’s not rigorous enough to protect our planet. In an editorial published today in Science Advances, scientists at Conservation International and the UN Foundation say if Earth’s temperature were to warm any more than 1.5°C, we would experience devastating losses.

The paper’s authors — Lee Hannah, Conservation International’s senior climate change scientist, and Tom Lovejoy, senior fellow at the UN Foundation — theorize that the 2.0°C target set by policy makers is not enough to stop effects of warming, such as loss of coral reefs, destruction of forests, an increase in wildfires and species extinction.

In order to prevent these losses, the scientists suggest maximizing the use of nature. “Although current trajectories in energy use and ecosystem destruction seem to be leading us relentlessly forward, a few paths to capping temperature increase at 1.5°C still exist.” Among the most important of these paths: ecosystem restoration (the process of repairing ecosystems that have been damaged, degraded or destroyed) and reducing deforestation.

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The destruction and degradation of ecosystems release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but ecosystem restoration would help reduce the carbon being released, enabling scientists to cap the temperature rise at 1.5°C. Limiting carbon dioxide emissions is not the only benefit of ecosystem restoration: Restoring ecosystems can increase land productivity and fertility, provide safe havens for biodiversity and help coastal wetlands buffer storm surges.

According to the authors, we aren’t at the “climate failsafe point” yet. “We still have time to act on the recognition that our planet is an intricately linked biological and physical system that holds yet-to-be-understood capacity to heal and clean itself. We still have tools and opportunities to effectively manage the living planet and its biodiversity for the benefit of humanity and all life on Earth.”

Read the full article here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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