9. When could the 2ºC target be reached?

There is public agreement that a 2ºC increase in global warming should be avoided. In fact, the Paris Agreement set a global average temperature target of well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. Some policymakers and civil society groups advocated for a higher ambition target, and a 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels target was also included. The IPCC has been requested to produce a special report on the impacts, feasibility and costs of the 1.5ºC target.
However, the 1.5ºC target has almost certainly already been missed because of the lack of action to stop the increase in global GHG emissions for the last 20 years. Global average temperature has already reached 1ºC above pre-industrial times in 2015, as reported by the World Meteorological Organization[1]. This is a significant increase, compared to the 0.85ºC above pre-industrial times in 2012 reported by the IPCC[2]. An additional warming of 0.4-0.5ºC is expected as a consequence of GHGs that have already been emitted. This additional increase in global temperature is due to the slow response of the ocean-atmosphere system to the increased atmospheric concentrations of GHGs[3].


Global GHG emissions are not projected to decrease fast enough, even if all the pledges are fully implemented. Full implementation of the pledges will require the promised US$100 billion per year in financial assistance for developing countries to be realized. As a result, the 1.5ºC target could be reached by the early 2030s and the 2ºC target by 2050[4].


The main concern is not when the 2ºC target will be exceeded, but the impacts of climate change resulting from such an increase in global temperature. Weather-related events due to climate change have doubled in number since 1990[5]. An increase in global average temperature of 2ºC within the next couple of decades implies an additional doubling in the number of these events.


As the number of weather-related events due to climate change continues to rise, their impact on water resources, food production, human health, services and infrastructure in urban and rural areas, among other sectors[6], will be more frequent and intense. Some of the impacts of climate change may be beneficial, while most will not, negatively impacting lives and livelihoods everywhere.


There is still time to slow down the current path towards reaching the 2ºC target within the next few decades. There are two positive aspects towards changing this trend. First, and most importantly, there are still four years before the implementation of the INDCs in 2020. By 2018, all countries agreed to revise their pledges –sufficient time to significantly raise the ambition of actions to reduce GHG emissions and to adopt the necessary policies for their effective implementation in all countries. Second, the IPCC has already committed to improving its communications to make their reports more accessible for the public to understand.





[1] Status of Global Climate in 2015, World Meteorological Organization (2015)

[2] IPCC, AR5, WG I, Chapter 2 (2013)

[3] IPCC, AR5, WG I, Chapter 12 (2013)

[4] IPCC, AR5, WG I, Annex II, Table AII-7-5 (2013)

[5] Loss events worldwide 1980 – 2014, Munich RE (2015)

[6] IPCC, AR5, WG II, Technical Summary (2014)