Story | 09/18/2020 13:11:13 | 5 min Read time

What’s in a number? Explaining the 1.5°C climate change target

The figure 1.5°C appears in every climate change conversation these days, but who actually came up with it, what does it mean and what can be done to not cross this line?

The figure 1.5°C has been the talk of the global environmental community since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C in October 2018. To the average person, this doesn’t seem like a very significant or noticeable change. So, what’s behind this number and why is it crucial not to let the planet get that much warmer?  

At more than 1.5°C of warming there’s enough heat to push many of the world’s natural systems that sustain us past a dangerous turning point.  

“2°C is, according to the science community, an upper limit of safe warming. The IPCC’s report demonstrated that 1.5°C would be more beneficial for the planet as compared to 2.0°C. Some countries and blocs, like the EU, are aiming for 1.5°C. In case of 3.0°C warming, we would lose a large fraction of global food production capacity. Also, the resulting rise in sea levels would endanger several countries and coastal cities. Floods and storms would become very severe as well,” says Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization. 

Together with the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), UPM has conducted research on how climate change will affect its operating environment, including things like forestry and wood sourcingThe report concluded that especially in Northern Europe, forests have benefitted from the warmer climate and increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. However, during the coming decades, this positive development may at least partly be cancelled due to potentially increasing disturbances such as drought, fire and insect pests. Further, climate change may also impact wood sourcing and forest activities. For example, less soil frost can cause logging issues and problems related to wood transportation, due to the reduced bearing capacity of forest soils and roads. The role of forests as a carbon sink is an important aspect in the context of climate change mitigation activities, so it is vital that we find the most beneficial and sustainable use of forest resources. 


Changing climate in Northern Europe promotes tree growth, while increasing the risk of drought and floods. 

We still have time 

There is a bit of good news, though. Human activities have already contributed 0.8–1.2°C of warming, the report states. Nevertheless, the gases which have been emitted so far are unlikely to cause global temperature to rise to 1.5°C alone, meaning a global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is avoidable. So, how can we do it?  

“Global efforts are needed to tackle the problem, like implementing the Paris Agreement. The frames have to be set by the government to target business investments in carbon-free technologies and guide consumers towards buying climate-friendly products. The main emissions are coming from the energy, industry, transportation and housing sectors. Fossil energy should be replaced with nuclear, bio, hydro and renewable energy. Electric vehicles, biofuels, public transport and cycling/walking should replace carbon-fuelled traffic. Heat pumps and wood materials should be favoured in housing and construction,” Taalas advises. 

Sami Lundgren, UPM’s Vice President for Responsibility, believes that “the challenge is so huge that we are all needed, thus collective effort is the only possible answer”. Much of the responsibility lies with governments and businesses, and UPM, for its part, is trying to do its share towards mitigating this global problem.  

UPM has been a long-time participant in UN Global Compact, we also participated in Climate Week and saw it as a good opening. At the same time, we had already started a ‘Climate Actions’ project which reported to the CEO. All emission sources were evaluated and afterwards it was easy to make a new commitment,” Lundgren says, referring to the UN Global Compact Business Ambition for 1.5°C, which is designed to mitigate climate change. 

But we don’t have to sit and wait for the governments and corporations to act. How we live our daily lives can also have a substantial impact on not crossing the 1.5°C line. Lundgren believes that, at the end of the day, we as consumers decide what businesses are doing, so “it all starts from the small steps that we can all do in our everyday life. 

Next time you’re going somewhere, says Taalas, try walking, cycling or using public transport. If you must drive, consider switching to an electric or biofuel car. Develop more conscious consumption habits (less is actually more) and try to be more aware of the carbon footprint of the goods you’re thinking of purchasing. Homeowners can use heat pump heating, cooling and good insulation to use less energy for heating. Wood absorbs CO2 so building houses out of this material as opposed to cement can make your home act as a sort of long-term carbon storage. Together we can do this, but we must start today.

Text: Maria Stambler 

Main photo credit: Agustín Lautaro on Unsplash 

Link: https://unsplash.com/photos/SH_oYiwg224 

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