The Risks of Missing the 2°C Target and the Risks of Framing the Target As 2°C

Friday, 19 December 2014
Lauren Hartzell Nichols, University of Washington Seattle Campus, Seattle, WA, United States
The publication of IPCC AR5 has made it very clear that we are at risk of missing the 2°C target. It has also made it clear that the risks of missing this target would be very dire. But when read through a precautionary lens, it also illustrates potential risks of framing an appropriate climate target as 2°C. We ought to be doing all we can to limit the extent of climate change as much as possible, and framing our target as limiting warming to 2°C may mask the demandingness and urgency of addressing climate change aggressively and holistically.

In this session I will summarize my work on what precaution demands in the face of climate change and discuss how it applies to AR5. I argue for a Catastrophic Precautionary Principle that gives us strong moral reasons to take precautionary measures against threats of catastrophe, such as those posed by climate change. I will explain how the IPCC’s discussion of the five reasons for concern about climate change support a strong moral argument that we ought to be taking a much more precautionary approach to climate policy than is currently evidenced by UNFCCC agreements and domestic policies around the world. While AR5 supports the conclusion that we should not risk missing the 2°C target, it also supports reevaluating what our target – and more generally what our comprehensive approach to climate policy – should be. In this way, I will discuss the complex science-ethics-policy nexus and the role of climate science in guiding precautionary global climate policies.