What Difference Does 0.5°C Of Global Warming Make? A Hell Of A Lot

If we don't act on climate change, storms such as Hurricane Florence could become long-standing and all the more destructive. ISS/NASA

The world has reached a fork in the road with two paths ahead: a planet that’s 2°C warmer than pre-industrial levels and a planet that’s 1.5°C warmer. But what difference can a measly 0.5°C really make? It turns out, a hell of a lot.

This is one of the key findings of a landmark new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s body to assesses research on climate change. At the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, international leaders agreed to keep global warming “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” with the hopes to limit this to just 1.5°C. The science now clearly states that the  2°C target is simply not good enough.

“You don’t want to live in a 2°C world,” Hunter Cutting, Director of Strategic Communications at Climate Nexus who observed the IPCC plenary, told IFLScience.

A world with 2°C of warming will be a planet without coral reefs. Corals have already been battered by our current rise in global temperatures, which has risen by 1°C over the past 150 or so years. Even if the world limits global warming to 1.5°C, it is a pretty bleak situation for coral reefs as we can expect to see a further 70 to 90 percent loss of cover. However, by 2°C, it is almost certainly game over for over 99 percent of the world’s coral reefs.

Around 6 percent of insects, 8 percent of plants, and 4 percent of vertebrates are projected to be negatively affected by global warming of 1.5°C, namely by shrinking their natural geographic range, compared with 18 percent of insects, 16 percent of plants and 8 percent of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C.

View from the city of Orange of the wild brush fire called the Canyon Fire near Corona, California on September 26, 2017. Aarti Kalyani/Shutterstock
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