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Abstract If the objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to be achieved, Parties must commit themselves to meeting meaningful long-term targets that, based on current knowledge, would minimize the possibility of irreversible climate change. Current indications are that a global mean temperature rise in excess of 2–3 °C would enhance the risk of destabilizing the climate system as we know it, and possibly lead to catastrophic change such as a shutdown of the deep ocean circulation, and the disintegration of the West Arctic Ice Sheet. Observations have shown that for many small island developing States (SIDS), life-sustaining ecosystems such as coral reefs, already living near the limit of thermal tolerance, are highly climate-sensitive, and can suffer severe damage from exposure to sea temperatures as low as 1 °C above the seasonal maximum. Other natural systems (e.g., mangroves) are similarly susceptible to relatively low temperature increases, coupled with small increments of sea level rise. Economic and social sectors, including agriculture and human health, face similar challenges from the likely impacts of projected climate change. In light of known thresholds, this paper presents the view that SIDS should seek support for a temperature cap not exceeding 1.5–2.0 °C above the pre-industrial mean. It is argued that a less stringent post-Kyoto target would frustrate achievement of the UNFCCC objective. The view is expressed that all countries which emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases should commit to binding reduction targets in the second commitment period, but that targets for developing countries should be less stringent than those agreed for developed countries. Such an arrangement would be faithful to the principles of equity and would ensure that the right of Parties to attain developed country status would not be abrogated.