Life at 2'C

2’C- The Facts

  • The planet is expected to surpass the 2’ C benchmark between 2050 and 2100 (Peter deMenocal, Paleoclimate Scientist, Columbia University)

  • Climate change between 2030 and 2050 is expected to cause 250,000 additional global deaths (World Health Organisation)

Your numerical instincts are correct - 2’C will be worse than 1.5’C.

So, take a seat, a deep breath and let’s talk extinction…I’m just kidding…that’s not happening…just yet.

We will cover that in another blog -‘Life’ at 3’C.

Climate change is happening and it has been happening for some time now. The World Health Organization estimates that every year 12.6 million people [1]will die due to pollution, extreme weather and climate-related disease. If we surpass the 2’C mark, the scientific consensus is that life on our planet will change as we know it. Rising seas, mass extinctions, super droughts, increased wildfires, intense hurricanes, decreased crops and fresh water and further melting of the Arctic is expected.

‘A statistically based, probabilistic forecast for committed warming’

The grim prophesy reached by two different studies using entirely different methods published in the Nature Climate Change journals confirms we’re headed for disastrous global warming.

One[2] study used statistical analysis and showed there was a 95% chance the Earth will warm more than 2 degrees at century's end, and a 1% chance that it would be below 1.5’C. The model was based on data which analysed the effect of existing emission mitigation policies. They estimated the median global temperature forecast as 3.2‘C and said the likely range of the increase will sit between 2.0-4.9 ‘C.

The second study[3] analysed past emissions of greenhouse gases and the burning of fossil fuels and cited that even if humans suddenly stopped burning fuels, the Earth will continue to heat up about 2 more degrees by 2100. It also concluded that if emissions continue for 15 more years, which is more likely than a sudden stop, the Earth's global temperature could rise as much as 3 degrees.

Taken together, the similar results present a devastating and bleak reality. Interestingly, they discovered that overpopulation was not a factor. They said this was down to the fact that much of the expected future population growth will be in Africa, in countries where carbon emissions are currently very low.

Scientists essentially know the kind of impact such increased temperatures are going to have and although listing them to highlight the danger they represent seems obvious enough, it’s hard to assign an exact value and urgency to the suffering this is going to cause. The scale of this issue and its impact on the planet - the anxiety and paralysis that that breeds, makes it seem abstract and unbelievable. These are not easy conditions to action.


Decisions made today will have a profound impact on health around the world for many decades to come. We are facing substantial health risks due to the degradation of the natural life support systems which are critical for our survival. According to a recent report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, rising temperatures and shifts in weather will lead to reduced air quality, food and water contamination, more infections carried by mosquitoes and ticks due to flooding.

Climate change is going to be a worldwide threat to hard-won advances and will have a paramount effect on our mental and physical health. It’s also going to have a, shall we say, ‘negative’ effect on productivity and is set to cost the world economy £1.5 trillion by 2030 as it becomes too hot to work.


Climate change is already responsible for driving internal displacement. There is a strong link between climate change and rising geopolitical tensions. Global warming contributed to Syria’s 2011 uprising. The uprising was also very much to do with the government’s failure to respond to the crisis. Unsteady economic growth, growing inequality and exposure to environmental disasters are also factors that contribute to continued poverty.

Water scarcity and Agriculture

On land, an increase of 2 degrees C would almost double the water deficit and lead to a drop-in wheat and maize harvests. Nasa reported Northern latitudes may see a temporary boost in soy and wheat farming, partly because of the warmer temperatures farther north and partly because carbon dioxide fertilization increased carbon dioxide helps plants grow, but at an increase of 2 degrees C, this advantage almost disappears for soy, and entirely vanishes for wheat.

Back from the Brink

Many scientists have stated that capping warming at 2 degrees would require a monumental effort, including removing CO2 from the atmosphere. As it happens, there might be some hope.

Direct air capture technology is the latest technology that captures carbon dioxide from the air[4]. It could be the big save we need to engage in some serious damage control. For it to work, we would need to capture as much as 10 billion metric tons by 2050. This will involve spending $500 billion each year. If that sum initially sounds like a lot of money, it’s only until we put climate change’s other damages into full perspective.

The Big Questions

At exactly what stage do we start suffering climate catastrophe? How are we defining ‘catastrophe’?

How much worse does it need to get before we start redesigning and developing ways to make our food supplies, homes, cities, resources safer and sustainable? And what form of behaviour change does climate change call for? Where do we start and who is leading the way?