The Current

Paris climate summit hinges on two degrees Celsius, argue scientists

Two degrees Celsius is a deceptively small number, but the ripple effect of a small global temperature rise can create waves of climate change. As the Paris climate conference is underway, we're concentrating on two degrees, the highest amount of warming climate scientists find acceptable as a target.
Leaders and climate negotiators from around the world are at the World Climate Change Conference in Paris today to try to negotiate an agreement to slow global warming. (Reuters/Philippe Wojazer)

Organizers of the UN climate talks gave themselves a head start in Paris yesterday, starting the conference a day earlier than scheduled. That eagerness to get going seems to reflect the optimism and the sense of urgency surrounding these negotiations, and a recognition of how much hard work and how little sleep lies ahead in the next week and a half.

Last year was the hottest on record, with the highest recorded concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and greenhouse emissions that continue to climb after two decades of negotiations, lofty rhetoric, half measures and bickering. (Reuters/Marcos Brindicci)

Katharine Hayhoe is one such climate scientist, a Canadian who's also a professor of political science and the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. Last year, she was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people. We reached Professor Hayhoe at her home in Lubbock, Texas.

Some people's lives and livelihoods are especially vulnerable to the prospect of two degrees warming. Take for instance, Maureen Silos, an organic farmer in Suriname and a consultant on environmental issues.

(Pieter Edelman, Flickr cc)
"If the temperature goes up two degrees Celsius, we will see more incidences in Suriname which we've recently been experiencing, which is extreme weather patterns. I was flooded in May...the whole community was just a swimming pool."- Maureen Silos, farmer and climate activist in Suriname

The magic number in Paris of two degrees is not new. The idea that more than a couple of degrees of warming would get civilization well outside its comfort zone has been around for 40 years.

Since then, two degrees has become a very political number. The 2009 UN climate change conference in Copenhagen settled on two degrees as a target. But that conference turned out to be a bit of trainwreck. And for the past six years, climate negotiators and the 190-plus nations they represent have been trying to figure out how to translate the two-degree target into a global agreement that will actually achieve it.

The Good, the Bad, the Bewildering: 10 Countries' Climate Pledges

Radoslav Dimitrov has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the UN climate negotiation process. He's an associate professor of political science at Western University in London, Ontario and he has attended many climate conferences since 2004. Professor Dimitrov is in Paris this year as a European Union delegate acting as an advisor to the Bulgarian delegation.

Follow CBC's coverage on the Paris Climate Change Conference 2015

This segment was produced by CBC's Chris Wodskou.