Running a 2-hour Marathon; Let’s Talk 1.5°C

Flat World Partners
5 min readNov 16, 2022

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Global policymakers and researchers have painted a gloomy picture: we are not on track to stay under our 1.5°C target. This has prompted news outlets like the Economist and Bloomberg to write articles giving readers more realism, explaining that the goal will be missed. So, should expectations be lowered to just stay under a higher 2°C target? Should we just accept defeat of the 1.5°C goal? Well, let’s put this in another way. You are a serious marathon runner whose life goal is to set a world record, beating the current 2:01:09 time. Would you strive for just that one extra second to 2:01:08, or keep a high bar and train yourself to beat the 2-hour mark?

I think we all know for what time mark that marathon runner would train.

A brief history:

Although scientists have been warning humanity about climate change since the early to mid-1900s, leaders, policy-makers and the broader public became much more serious about solving climate change in the 1980s and 90s. It was around this time that critical research studies exposed what the world would look like on a scale of different degrees of average global warming. The most notable of these contributions were research studies published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC’s works were key inputs of deliberation for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) ultimate decision-making body, the Conference of Parties (COP). It was at the sixteenth Conference of Parties meeting (COP16) in 2010 that 1.5°C was first mentioned by the UNFCCC. Although the long-term max temperature increase goal of COP16 was actually to keep warming below 2°C, the agreement understood the importance of strengthening the global goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. This was because experts projected that some regions and ecosystems, such as small island nations in the Oceania region, would be in trouble if warming exceeded 1.5°C. This is what ultimately led to the 1.5°C target from the 2015 Paris climate accords, where almost every country signed a legally binding treaty on climate change hoping to “limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C compared to preindustrial levels.”

Fast forward seven years:

Sadly, we are nowhere near on track to staying within that temperature goal. A new report by Earth System Science Data was released last week titled “Global Carbon Budget 2022.” The report concluded with two important data points demonstrating how far we are off. First, GHG emissions in 2022 are likely to reach an all-time high, rising 1% since last year (since 2015, emissions have increased by 5%.) Second, the study estimated that at current rates, we will reach 1.5°C in nine years, and 2°C in thirty years.

This should not come as a surprise to governments as each country knew that their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) made in Paris were not enough to limit warming to 1.5°C. Therefore, what is important is watching changes to NDCs. A recent Climate Resource report chronicles how countries have done little to increase the ambition of their pledges since last year, when the 1.5°C goal was known to be doubtful.

But hope is not lost! The same report does share two optimistic points. First, we will likely not go over the 2°C threshold if all pledges made to date are fulfilled. And second, it even still possible to keep in the 1.5°C target if countries slightly overshoot this target and then reach it “from above.” In other words, the world might reach over the 1.5C°C threshold, but then remove enough carbon dioxide to get to 1.5°C later.

So, the world record marathon time is in our sights. Let’s work, organize, plan, innovate, and pass bills like we need to reach 1.5°C, so that there is no doubt we keep warming well below 2°C!

Isaac Eskind, Investment Analyst

Critical to the world’s success in staying below the 1.5°C target is the phase out of the most polluting fossil fuel: Coal. Recently, Slovakia has confirmed that it will shut all coal plants by 2023. This includes its 266MW Novácky plant, which generates about 1.16 million tonnes of CO2 each year. This is great news. Coal phase-outs can be tracked here.

Time Magazine’s best inventions of 2022 just came out. I am impressed with how many different category winners are integrating sustainability. Winners in Apps & Software, Automotive, Beauty, Consumer Electronics, Design, Experimental, Food & Drink, Household, Outdoors, Social Good, Style, and Special Mention all touch sustainability, as do more obvious categories, like Transportation, Sustainability, and Green Energy.

If you are a podcast fan and are looking for something more about climate change, give the “A Matter of Degrees” podcast a listen. Hosts Dr. Leah Stokes and Dr. Katherine Wilkinson talk about a wide range of climate topics, including multiple episodes about little things we can all do in the various areas of our lives, from the professional to personal.

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