Over the past 20 years, scientists and governments around the world have wrestled with the challenge of climate change. The Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, and other international climate negotiations seek to limit warming to an average of two degrees Celsius (2°C). This objective is justified by scientists that have identified two degrees of warming as the point at which climate change becomes dangerous. However, there are voices in the scientific community that suggest that the actual temperature restriction should be lowered to 1.5°C. Why the discrepancy?
Climate scientists themselves maintain that while science can provide projections of possible impacts of warming at difference levels, determining exactly what constitutes an acceptable level of risk is not a matter to be decided by science alone. It is a value choice that must be made by societies as a whole. This difficult decision should not be made by a selective group of people. Therefore, climate scientists can inform debates using their research, but they cannot provide a definitive answer to what’s acceptable.
However, news stories, policy announcements, and many environmental NGO campaign messages characteristically describe 2°C of warming as the point at which scientists agree climate change will become dangerous. In order to clear the confusion, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have committed to improving public access to information about climate change. Public participation could also extend to discussions about what, if anything, should replace the 2°C concept. Greater public involvement in discussions of what constitutes an acceptable level of climate risk is needed because currently, there is little public awareness or understanding of the targets and the risks they represent.
Featured image credit: “Industrial building, sky and grey” by Natasha Kasim. Public Domain via Unsplash.