What is the 1.5 degree temperature target & how can businesses help us achieve it?

Businesses have a key role in accelerating the low carbon transition and helping the world achieve 1.5 degrees by the end of the decade.
Posted by
James Parker
May 6, 2022

The Paris Agreement

The 1.5˚C temperature target has gained much traction in climate discussions and is now regarded as the best-case scenario for mitigating the effects of climate change. This ambition was outlined in the Paris Agreement, in order to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and ultimately keep delicate and finely calibrated earth systems in balance. 

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change and was adopted in 2015 at COP21 by 196 countries (known as Parties). By signing this agreement, Parties committed to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with an increased ambition for 1.5˚C, compared to pre-industrial levels. This is hoped to be achieved through increases in climate-related targets every five years, in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). 

The agreement also aims to bring about significant economic and social transformation, supported by scientific research and development. Hence, alongside the NDCs the Paris Agreement encourages the development of sustainable strategies, which allow the world to successfully transition to low-carbon economies. 

Climate change is a collective crisis which requires collective action. However, certain countries - in particular small island developing states - are more vulnerable than others. To tackle this inequity the Paris Agreement outlines that developed countries offer financial, technical and capacity-building support to help developing countries adapt, build resilience and transition to a more sustainable green economy.

Why 1.5 Degrees?

Although the initial goal was to aim for ‘well below 2˚C degrees’, the 1.5˚C degree temperature target has become an increasingly necessary ambition. Following an international climate report, released in 2021 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it became apparent that a 2˚C rise above pre-industrial levels would significantly worsen climate-related risks to human health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. Scientists indicated in the report that aiming for 1.5°C will help to prevent irreversible changes to Earth’s fragile ecosystems;  known as tipping points.  

The IPCC presented model pathways to 1.5˚C, which would require:

  • A 45% reduction in CO2 levels compared with 2010 by 2030
  • Achieving Net Zero by 2050

The recent international climate conference, COP26, reinforced optimism in some quarters that a 1.5˚C global warming limit is still achievable, although it was made clear that this would require a significant leap in aspirations and dedication. It was projected that current government policies on climate change would overshoot the necessary targets, driving us towards a 2.7 ˚C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

It is common to be anxious about these projections but the reality is that we have the solutions needed to mitigate against the impacts of climate change and have proved capable of altering our trajectory in the past. It is worth keeping sight of the fact that, in 2015, the projections based on climate policies at the time indicated a 3.6˚C temperature rise by the end of the century.

The Role of Business in Achieving a 1.5 °C Future

Businesses have a key role in accelerating the low carbon transition and helping the world achieve the Paris Agreement target by the end of the decade. Large cuts in GHG emissions are needed across each industry, coupled with compensatory measures to help reduce the risk of variable inter-sector fluctuations. Some companies will also be required to drive forward innovation and commercialisation of climate mitigation solutions.

Below are five of the integral business shifts required to help meet a 1.5 °C pathway:

  1. Decarbonisation of power and fuel (focussed on increasing renewables, hydrogen and bioenergy)
  2. Increase Carbon Capture, Use, and Storage (CCUS) and at least 80 million hectares of reforestation
  3. Electrification of the transport industry and buildings
  4. Increased industrial efficiency and electrification of industrial processes
  5. Aforestation offsetting schemes contributing to a 75% reduction in deforestation

Businesses will need to look within their operations and value chain to identify unsustainable practices and areas for improvements to ensure net zero goals are accomplished as soon as possible. A key role for businesses leading the transition to 1.5°C includes adopting a science-based approach, which will ensure future activities are compatible with international temperature targets.

Next steps for your organisation: 

  • As the IPCC has recognised net zero by 2050 as one of the essential requirements for achieving a 1.5°C world, is this something your business is already working towards? 
  • Does your climate strategy adopt a science-based approach, informed by international scientific consensus, or the frameworks set by international scientific bodies such as the ‘Science-based Targets Initiative? 
  • Has your organisation committed to one of the five business shifts mentioned above? For example electrification of company buildings and/or transport?

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