Differential climate impacts for policy-relevant limits to global warming: the case of 1.5°C and 2°C
Robust appraisals of climate impacts at different levels of global-mean temperature increase are vital to guide assessments of dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The 2015 Paris Agreement includes a two-headed temperature goal: "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C". Despite the prominence of these two temperature limits, a comprehensive overview of the differences in climate impacts at these levels is still missing. Here we provide an assessment of key impacts of climate change at warming levels of 1.5 °C and 2 °C, including extreme weather events, water availability, agricultural yields, sea-level rise and risk of coral reef loss.
Our results reveal substantial differences in impacts between a 1.5 °C and 2 °C warming that are highly relevant for the assessment of dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. For heat-related extremes, the additional 0.5 °C increase in global-mean temperature marks the difference between events at the upper limit of present-day natural variability and a new climate regime, particularly in tropical regions. Similarly, this warming difference is likely to be decisive for the future of tropical coral reefs.
In a scenario with an end-of-century warming of 2 °C, virtually all tropical coral reefs are projected to be at risk of severe degradation due to temperature-induced bleaching from 2050 onwards. This fraction is reduced to about 90 % in 2050 and projected to decline to 70 % by 2100 for a 1.5 °C scenario. Analyses of precipitation-related impacts reveal distinct regional differences and hot-spots of change emerge. Regional reduction in median water availability for the Mediterranean is found to nearly double from 9 % to 17 % between 1.5 °C and 2 °C, and the projected lengthening of regional dry spells increases from 7 to 11 %. Projections for agricultural yields differ between crop types as well as world regions. While some (in particular high-latitude) regions may benefit, tropical regions like West Africa, South-East Asia, as well as Central and northern South America are projected to face substantial local yield reductions, particularly for wheat and maize.
Best estimate sea-level rise projections based on two illustrative scenarios indicate a 50 cm rise by 2100 relative to year 2000-levels for a 2 °C scenario, and about 10 cm lower levels for a 1.5 °C scenario. In a 1.5 °C scenario, the rate of sea-level rise in 2100 would be reduced by about 30 % compared to a 2 °C scenario.
Our findings highlight the importance of regional differentiation to assess both future climate risks and different vulnerabilities to incremental increases in global-mean temperature. The article provides a consistent and comprehensive assessment of existing projections and a good basis for future work on refining our understanding of the difference between impacts at 1.5 °C and 2 °C warming.
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