Remember this number: 1.5 degrees. That’s the upper limit for global warming that our governments will try to stay under, as agreed at the global climate negotiations in Paris last year. Everything all of us do from this point on will be measured against it.

Getting this agreement was a big achievement in a longer struggle. Now, countries need to make sure the Agreement becomes a reality, first by signing it and then by taking steps nationally to turn it into laws, regulations and policies. Signing is important, because the Agreement can’t enter into force until at least 55 per cent of member countries have signed and ratified it, with these countries representing at least 55 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. So while countries have a year to sign the Agreement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is putting all his efforts into ensuring that more than 192 countries sign the Agreement at a high-level UN meeting next month.

Here at WWF, we hope to see all countries make history by signing the Agreement on 22 April. This would be a powerful political statement. More, however, is needed.

As they did in Paris, governments must take this opportunity to go further, by announcing new scaled-up actions to get out of fossil fuels and into renewables, to protect forests or to change investments from dirty to clean. They should also announce their plans to make their existing pledges more ambitious.

Here’s why:

URGENCY – The world has already warmed 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times, so staying below 1.5 C is an enormous challenge. If countries do not do more than promised in their national climate plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, we will be on track for more than 3 degrees warming. Scientists tell us 1.5 C is a critical upper limit, determining the course of sea level rise and the fate of low-lying countries, coral reefs, tropical forests and Arctic ecosystems. Governments are listening and that is why we saw 1.5 degrees enshrined in the Paris Agreement.

URGENCY – Hot is becoming our new normal. 2015 beat 2014’s “hottest year ever” record and meteorological organisations are already predicting that 2016 will be the new “hottest year ever.” January and February this year have broken the “hottest month” records, with meteorologists calling the February record “shattering,” “unprecedented,” and “a bombshell”. February 2016 also marks the 10th consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken. Overall, the six highest monthly temperature records have all occurred in the past six months. The nine highest monthly global ocean temperature records have all occurred in the past nine months (since July 2015). The Arctic experienced unusually warm conditions in January and February, driving another record – the lowest sea-ice extent ever.

URGENCY – The impacts of a warmer world are already being felt and scientists tell us adaptation will help us only up to a point. Dr Jeff Masters and Bob Henson noted that “February 2016 gave us a number of extreme weather events that were made more probable by a warmer climate. And, as we have been repeatedly warned might likely be the case, these impacts came primarily in less developed nations – the ones with the least resources available to deal with dangerous climate change.” They said that according to the February 2016 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield, “three nations – Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Fiji – suffered extreme weather disasters in February 2016 that cost at least 4 per cent of their GDP.” They noted that according to the International Disaster Database, “these disasters set records for the all-time most expensive weather-related disaster in their nations’ history. By comparison, nine nations had their most expensive weather-related natural disasters in history in all of 2015.”

URGENCY – The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere had the largest year-to-year increase in 56 years (since these records began being kept by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii). And 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 emissions grew by more than 2 parts per million. Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference network calls these records “explosive compared to natural processes” and noted that “CO2 levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years”.

Let us be clear: We are seeing a rapidly warming world, with a destabilizing climate. Decisive action can get us off this path, but there is no time to lose. Countries must increase the pledges they made in Paris and turn them into concrete, rapid actions back home that produce less climate pollution and a just transition for people and communities. This starts with signing the Paris Agreement on April 22 but it does not end there.

People around the world are more concerned about climate change than ever. They should be. But the good news is that our political leaders are concerned too. We saw this in Paris and we hope we will see it again on April 22. Let’s make history by signing the Agreement and showing how governments will turn their great ambitions into action.


Samantha Smith is the leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, based in Oslo, Norway.

This blog post was originally published on WWF Climate and Energy Blog on 24 March 2016.