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A new report says the climate may breach 1.5 degrees of warming in 5 years


When we talk about climate change, there's a number that keeps coming up - a threshold. It's 1.5 degrees Celsius - or a little under 3 degrees Fahrenheit. In 2015, countries pledged to try to keep global warming to under an average of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Well, a new report from the World Meteorological Organization gives us a 2 in 3 chance to exceed that mark in the next five years. Tropical island nations will be among those most impacted by sea level rise and more powerful hurricanes.

Colin Young joins me now from Belize. He's executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center. Welcome.

COLIN YOUNG: Thank you, Ailsa.

CHANG: Let me just start with - do you have any initial reactions to this report that there's a sizeable chance we are going to exceed this 1.5 degree mark pretty soon?

YOUNG: Well, I think the writing was on the wall that, unless we saw the kind of committed actions and increased ambition from countries that are largely responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, that this would happen. I think what the report did was to now put some likelihood numbers, and that is quite shocking.

CHANG: Well, one caveat - I mean, this report says that this could only be a temporary breach of 1.5 degrees, and it has to do in part because of the projected emergence of El Nino, a natural weather phenomenon. Does that caveat give any hope to you?

YOUNG: No, I - it does not. I think that you have to look at the report in its totality. And while it made very clear reference to the fact that this is a temporary projection, it also says that there's a 98% chance that the next five years will be the warmest on record. So the trend is that everything is going in the wrong direction for us.

CHANG: I mean, given that richer countries are contributing the most to climate change and have the most ability to do something about this problem, what policy initiatives would you like to see happen to pressure these wealthier countries to do more to slow down climate change?

YOUNG: Well, Ailsa, we have the Paris Agreement. The science is absolutely clear in terms of what we need to do. We need to cut global emissions by 45% by 2030, and we need to reach net zero by 2050. But rather than countries pursuing the kind of ambition that is required in terms of cutting emissions, we are seeing emissions going the wrong direction. It's actually increasing. We are seeing countries that are now embracing fossil fuel. That is adding to the problem. And so as a region that is one of the most vulnerable region in the world, what needs to be done lacks the political will. And as a result of that rhetoric from the countries who are most responsible, then our region remains and is suffering at the front lines of climate change. We will continue to agitate. We will continue to demand. But, you know, talk alone will not get us to where we need to be.

CHANG: Putting aside what can wealthier countries do to slow down climate change, in the meantime, what do you think rich countries should do to help poorer countries deal with the effects of climate change now? What would you like to see?

YOUNG: I would like to see that we live up to the Paris Agreement, where countries had promised to deliver a hundred billion U.S. dollars per year to assist vulnerable countries to adapt to the effects of climate change. We have failed in that regard. On the technology side, the Paris Agreement also provides for technology transfer that can help our countries, again, to increase the adaptive capacity to the effects of climate change. At the end of the day, climate change is responsible for a significant portion of the debt that our countries find ourselves in. We lack the fiscal space to adapt. And the rate of increase in warming is so fast that the effects of climate change will only worsen. So there's a massive financial gap...

CHANG: Right.

YOUNG: ...A capacity gap and a technology gap that is required to help us adapt. That's what we'd like to see the developed countries do more of.

CHANG: Colin Young, executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center, thank you very much.

YOUNG: Thank you, Ailsa. It's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHYGIRL SONG, "HEAVEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.