1.5°C vs. 2°C – a world of difference

31st Jul 2019

We are standing at the edge of a historic precipice.

Our actions in the coming years will dictate our planet’s course for centuries to come.

The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) laid out a stark choice: we can either make the “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to hold temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and hold off some of the worst climate impacts, or face irreversible damage to our societies, economies and the natural world.

To do the former, we must halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and hit net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.

The opportunity for action is quickly slipping through our fingers.

Corporate action towards 1.5°C

The private sector has a critical role to play in achieving a sustainable future.

Galvanized by the historic Paris Agreement, and the growing body of climate science, we are already seeing the transition to a low-carbon future accelerate around the world.

But we must do more. Conversations must move from what is practical or easy – the incremental changes or the quick wins – to climate action that is grounded in the latest science and is ambitious enough in speed and scale to meet its demands of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

The Science Based Targets initiative aims to use the most up-to-date scientific data to help companies align their business strategies and operations with the pathway for a climate safe future.

That is why we have introduced a suite of new technical resources that enable companies to set emissions reduction targets in line with the most ambitious goal under the Paris Agreement – 1.5°C.

While companies will be asked, at a minimum, to set targets that are compatible with the goal of keeping global warming well-below 2°C — as outlined by the Paris Agreement — acknowledging the risks involved in exceeding 1.5°C of warming, we are now urging companies to aim for targets that align with keeping warming below 1.5°C.

So, what difference does 0.5°C make?

The distinction might sound minor, but in terms of the consequences, there is a vast gulf between 1.5°C and 2°C.

Holding warming to 1.5°C could mean 11 million fewer people exposed to extreme heat, 61 million fewer people exposed to drought, and 10 million fewer people exposed to the impacts of sea level rise.

In addition to these human benefits, it could also halve the number of vertebrate and plant species facing severe range loss by the end of the century.

With studies showing that the value of services provided by a functioning biosphere averages approximately US$125 trillion a year, it is clear that restricting warming to 1.5°C could also shield us from severe global economic losses.

The business case for maintaining warming to 1.5°C is obvious: a 1.5°C world is a world that is more economically stable.

For businesses, it will provide more secure supply chains that are less susceptible to flood and extreme weather risks; it will result in healthier and safer workforces that are less exposed to extreme heat, water scarcity and food shortages; and it will beget more stable operations that are significantly less at risk of dramatic changes to their water supplies.

From the supply chain to the consumer, every part of a company’s value chain will benefit from limiting warming to 1.5°C.

The opportunities:

Described as the century’s “biggest financial and business opportunity”, companies are increasingly seeing the value of large-scale climate action.

While the risks posed to companies by even half a degree of global warming would be monumental, bold climate action could yield economic gains of US$26 trillion globally and create 65 million new jobs over the next 12 years, showing it doesn’t have to be a choice between our economy and our environment.

Though the challenge may seem daunting, the solution simply requires humanity to do what it does best: innovate.

From renewable energy to electric vehicles, we have seen companies pioneer ingenious new solutions to the climate crisis.

And companies are already seeing the business benefits of taking climate action, finding it helps improve brand reputation, increase investor confidence, boost resilience against regulations, provide a competitive advantage and make savings on their bottom line.

The companies that are fully embracing renewable energy are already outperforming their peers.

This decisive business leadership and investment in climate solutions must also be supported by ambitious government policies. As companies are stepping up to the climate emergency global market must now be spurred with clear and consistent government policies that drive the full decarbonization of every system of the economy.

A call to action for companies

With the facts laid out before us, it is clear that by not taking the actions necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C, companies are gambling with their very existence.

The corporate sector has the power to lead the way to a sustainable and secure future and protect the human population from the worst effects of global warming, while allowing our economies to thrive.

By committing to the Science Based Targets initiative, over 600 companies have already chosen to pursue ambitious decarbonization in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. They have signalled the emergence of a new normal.

In light of the latest science, we hope – and expect – to see companies set the most ambitious targets possible – and that means aiming for a 1.5°C future.

It’s time, once again, for companies to step up.

Have you committed to or set a science-based target? Increase your ambition towards 1.5°C today >>