1.5°C to Stay Alive

By Saint Lucia based artist Jonathan Gladding
By Saint Lucia based artist Jonathan Gladding

How many of us know that the Caribbean led the push for a sustainable and resilient planet?

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. James Fletcher, a stalwart in the climate change arena, whose contributions to the 1.5°C discourse are monumental.

Dr James Fletcher
Dr James Fletcher

As the former Saint Lucia Minister with responsibility for Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science, and Technology, Founder of the Caribbean Climate Justice Project, and a pivotal figure in the Caribbean’s climate advocacy, Dr. Fletcher’s insights into the intricacies of international climate change negotiations offer a blueprint for understanding and action.

His leadership during the Paris Agreement talks at COP21 in 2015, particularly his co-chairing of the committee on the 1.5°C target, was instrumental in securing this critical threshold in the final text and intentions of the Paris Agreement. The Caribbean, led by figures like Dr. Fletcher and backed by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), was unwavering in its stance: the 1.5°C target was non-negotiable, a red line they were prepared to stand behind.

Nine years on, scientists continue to urge the world to keep this commitment.

A Year Unlike Any Other: 2023’s Stark Warning

2023 marks the first time on record that every day within a year has exceeded 1°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial level for that time of year. According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), in 2023 close to 50% of days were more than 1.5°C warmer than the 1850-1900 level, and two days in November 2023 were, for the first time, more than 2°C warmer.

This dramatic rise is driven by relentless Greenhouse Gas emissions and a particularly fierce El Niño. With the 2023 average temperatures now approximately 1.48°C warmer than the pre-industrial average, we are now close to breaching the 1.5°C guardrail set by the Paris Agreement.

The corporate sector, long identified as a major climate actor, is now at a crossroads. With a mere 100 entities responsible for a lion’s share of emissions, the imperative for a green overhaul is glaring. The transition to sustainability is now recognized as an unavoidable necessity.

The Battle for 1.5°C: A narrative of persistence and skilled diplomacy

The journey to embedding 1.5°C in the Paris Agreement was fraught with scepticism and resistance. Developed nations balked at the stringent target, citing a lack of scientific backing. Yet, the Caribbean bloc, under Fletcher’s astute leadership, stood firm, leveraging scientific evidence, moral authority, and strategic diplomacy to sway the negotiations. The turning point came through a series of negotiations, notably with Australia, which underscored the importance of strategic alliances and compromise. Fletcher’s role transcended national interests, embodying the collective will of vulnerable nations demanding a fair stake in the global climate dialogue.

2024 and the road ahead

The early months of 2024 have continued to break temperature records. For example, in February 2024, 12 weather stations in Morocco register over 33.9C, which was not only a national record for the hottest winter day, but also more than 5C above average for July.

In the first half of February this year, 140 countries broke monthly heat records.

These developments underscore the imperative for urgent, collective action on climate change. Yet, the current trajectory of global emissions and the lukewarm response to climate finance commitments reflect a troubling disconnect between rhetoric and reality. The nascent Loss and Damage Fund, a second red-line position of the Caribbean bloc under the leadership of Dr Fletcher in Paris, is urgently needed for substantive financial backing to make it a meaningful mechanism for climate justice.

A Call for Action

In navigating the critical decade ahead, the story of the 1.5°C target-spearheaded by Dr. Fletcher and the Caribbean-serves as a beacon of resilience and determination. It is a stark reminder that the fight against climate change demands more than incremental progress; it requires a seismic shift in global priorities and actions.

The message and urgency of the “1.5 to Stay Alive” campaign is even more relevant today. In 2015 the message of the campaign was powerfully encapsulated and communicated by Saint Lucia based artist Jonathan Gladding.

Gladding’s painting became an icon of the fight for a robust and ambitious Paris Agreement. Dr. James Fletcher praised the painting for its powerful message and its contribution to the climate change movement. The painting depicts Emily as a representation of Earth and humanity in peril, slowly being submerged by rising sea levels while surrounded by the wildfires of a burning planet. The artwork is a call to action, urging the reduction of fossil fuel use, investment in clean energy, and adaptation measures to combat the impact of climate change.

Governments, businesses, and civil society must converge in an unprecedented global effort to redefine our relationship with the planet.

Action Steps for Companies

1. Conduct a Climate Risk Assessment: Understand how climate change impacts your operations, supply chains, and market demand.

2. Set Science-Based Targets: Commit to ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with what the science says is necessary to limit global warming.

3. Implement Sustainable Practices: Invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable sourcing, and circular economy models to reduce your environmental footprint, strengthen social and natural capital, and create greater resilience.

4. Develop an adaptation strategy and plan to decrease you vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and develop your capacity to withstand the inevitable variations in weather patterns and climate change.

5. Engage Stakeholders: Work with employees, suppliers, customers, and communities to collectively address the challenges of climate change.

6. Advocate for Climate Action: Use your influence to advocate for effective climate policies and practices, both within your industry and in the broader political landscape.

As the reality of climate change becomes increasingly undeniable, the role of companies in mitigating its impacts and leading the transition to a sustainable future has never been more critical.

Let the tireless advocacy of climate champions like Dr. Fletcher inspire us to greater heights. The 1.5°C target represents a collective aspiration for a sustainable future. It is a testament to what can be achieved when the world unites under a common cause. As we stand at this pivotal juncture, let us choose the path of action, courage, and collaboration. The time for half measures has passed. The moment to act is now. Our shared future depends on it.

Dr Axel Kravatzky is the managing partner of TT-based Syntegra-360 Ltd, vice-chair of ISO/TC309 Governance of Organizations and president of EUROCHAMTT. He enables companies to flourish, helping them increase the sustainable value they generate through integrated governance, certified management systems, and transformational leadership.

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