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Paris climate pledges lack ambition

Thermal power plant, in the central province of Hebei, China Thermal power plant, in the central province of Hebei, China L.F
05 May
The commitments to cutting carbon dioxide emissions currently set out by the EU, the USA and China are still likely to result in significantly more carbon in the atmosphere than the limits needed to keep the world below the two-degree warming threshold

The EU is committed to a 40 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 (based on 1990 levels). The USA is committed to a 26 to 28 per cent reduction by 2025 (based on 2005 levels), while China aims to peak its carbon emissions prior to 2030, and to start reducing them as early as possible. Collectively, these countries are responsible for almost half of current annual emissions of greenhouse gases.

These pledges – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – are all precursors to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where world leaders will be gathering in December to try and confirm a meaningful agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding the most harmful effects of climate change. Commitments have also been made by Switzerland, Norway, Mexico, Gabon, Russia, Liechtenstein and Andorra.

Unfortunately, the current INDCs are not enough. While the commitments made to date are forecast to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 57 to 59 gigatons (Gt) in 2030 – below the projected ‘business as usual’ estimate of 63 to 72 Gt – it is still well above the lowest risk scenario of 32 to 44 Gt required to avoid over 2°C of warming.

These are the findings of a new paper entitled ‘What will global annual emissions of greenhouse gases be in 2030, and will they be consistent with avoiding global warming of more than 2°C?’, published by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP), and authored by economists Rodney Boyd, Lord Nicholas Stern and Bob Ward.

By modelling the impacts of the pledged carbon emission cuts against future emission projections, they deduce that unless the rest of the world were to make very significant cuts to their CO2 emissions ‘it seems likely that there will still be a significant gap between aggregate national intentions and a pathway that is consistent with avoiding global warming of more than 2°C’.

Boyd-et-alAnnual emissions between 1990 and 2030 for the European Union, United States and China (Image: Boyd et al)

The current EU, USA and Chinese pledges are forecast to result in those countries emitting a total of between 20.9 and 22.3 Gt of carbon dioxide in 2030, around half of the allowed global 32 to 44 Gt. The paper estimates that the rest of the world’s CO2 emissions will rise from 26.2 Gt in 2010 to 35.4 Gt in 2030, hence the total estimation of between 57 and 59 Gt of carbon dioxide worldwide.

The paper makes four key suggestions to try and alter the current situation, and to lead to a scenario where global CO2 emissions can be brought more under control:

1. All countries trying to find credible ways of achieving bigger emissions reductions to be included in the INDCs to be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

2. Intensifying efforts to increase investment and innovation, particularly in relation to the development of cities, energy systems and land use, to help with emission reductions.

3. Creating a mechanism, to be included in the agreement emerging from Paris in December 2015, for countries to review their efforts and to find ways of ramping up the ambition of their emissions reductions by 2030 and beyond.

4. All countries building strong and transparent domestic bases for the implementation of their INDCs, setting countries on a path to decarbonisation and enabling them to ramp up their ambitions. 

‘The Paris agreement and the decisions surrounding it need to represent a long term development plan, rooted in science-based targets, if limiting a global temperature rise under 2°C is to be met,’ responded Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for the UNFCCC.

‘December’s UN climate convention conference must be a decisive departure from the past, putting in place the pathways, policies and crucially the finance that supports the growth and the climate ambitions of developing countries,’ he added. ‘Pathways and policies alongside support for developing countries that will lead to a progressive ramping up of ambition that will peak global emissions in ten years’ time, trigger a deep de-carbonisation of the global economy by the second half of the century and a sustainable future for every man, woman and child.’

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