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Why Half a Degree Matters: Higher Seas, Longer Heat Waves, Dead Reefs

New research suggests that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees can dramatically reduce the impacts of climate change around the world.

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could dramatically curb water scarcity in the Mediterranean region, help save tropical reefs, allow more wheat to grow in West Africa, and significantly shorten heat waves, according to a new study by European researchers.

As global leaders have wrangled over how to prevent warming the planet more than 2 degrees, leaders in vulnerable Pacific Island and West African nations have argued that this goal was too lax. Last December, climate negotiators meeting in Paris agreed that the world should seek to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, although that goal would be tough to reach and the benefits were difficult to quantify. On Friday, heads of states of about 160 nations will sign the climate agreement.

The new research published Thursday offers what may be the most detailed glimpse yet of the difference half a degree can make.

Using multiple sets of climate models, the scientists examined nearly a dozen climate indicators–including sea-level rise, rice and soy production, and extreme weather events–to analyze how the two temperature scenarios would affect 25 regions around the globe. While the models don't agree on precisely what will happen, the researchers reported consistent trends suggesting that capping warming at the lower range could substantially reduce harm from climate change in many places.


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