Don’t Abandon the Paris Temperature Target

Now Is Not the Time for Climate Defeatism

Droplets of water fall from a melting ice block harvested from Greenland and installed on Place du Pantheon for a project called Ice Watch Paris, in Paris, December 2015. Benoit Tessier / REUTERS

We are living through one of the most disruptive moments in modern human history, as the early impacts of climate change coincide with the onset of massive economic, technological, and social transformation. In this period of extraordinary challenge and obligation, it would be wrong to become indecisive or to consider no longer pursuing the goals that to date have driven climate action. In short, to abandon the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels—as close to 200 countries have promised to aim for in the landmark Paris agreement on climate change—would be a grave mistake.

Yet at this crucial moment, Ted Nordhaus (“The Two-Degree Delusion,” February 8) advocates that the international community do just that. He risks blindfolding policymakers to the available solutions to meeting the target while betting on unproven technologies that could do more harm than good. In consequence, Nordhaus also risks chaining our economies to the same dirty-energy systems that have already done so much to imperil the climate.

[Read "The Two-Degree Delusion" here.]

Nordhaus premises his claims on the false assumption that limiting warming to two degrees Celsius—let alone 1.5 degrees—has already been proven impossible and that adherence to this goal undermines the urgency to adapt. As a solution, he advocates economic development through the burning of fossil fuels to fund adaptation. But this is nonsensical.

Consider that just a few years ago, very few people would have predicted that the end of the combustion engine was in sight. Yet with China, France, India, and the United Kingdom talking about and setting deadlines for the end of fossil fuel road vehicles, this is now a reality.

The global energy mix is also transforming. Some of the world’s largest economies, including Canada, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, have pledged to close all coal plants by 2030 as part of a timeline for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries. In the United States, despite the pro-coal rhetoric of President Donald Trump,

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