Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Developed Countries GHG Reduction Commitments Fall Short

Oct 6: One of the most contentious arguments in the current international negotiations on climate change is the individual level of commitment from various developed countries to greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions by the 2020 interim deadline and the 2050 long-term deadline. Also contentious is the base year from which the target reductions are measured from -- e.g. from 1990 or 2005, or something else. Underlying the argument is the level of reduction absolutely necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change consequences -- i.e. the so-called "tipping point." And, the begging question; if the international community does something less than what is absolutely necessary -- is it worth doing at all.

A new analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI) sheds some insight on the issues. WRI indicates that commitments made by developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, when added together, fall short of stabilizing global temperatures at a level that averts dangerous climate change. The analysis, Comparability of Annex I Emission Reduction Pledges, examines the pledges made by the European Union, Japan, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Belarus, Ukraine and Canada as negotiations on a new global climate agreement near their climax in Copenhagen this December. Also included is the United States’s emission reductions based on the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House of Representatives in June.

WRI’s analysis reveals that commitments by these industrialized country parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would result in a 10 to 24 percent reduction of global emissions below 1990 levels by 2020 (the interim target). This is less than the 25 to 40 percent range of emission reductions that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states would be necessary for stabilizing concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450ppm, a level associated with a 52 percent risk of overshooting a two degrees Celsius goal. Both the G8 and the Major Economies Forum - representing the world’s 17 leading economies - recently agreed to a goal of limiting average global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

It should be noted, however, that the WRI analysis is based on the 450ppm science; while there is a major sector of interests that believe that number should actually be 350ppm. They (i.e. argue that we are already above the safe zone at our current 390ppm, and that unless we are able to rapidly return to 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt. indicates, "350 is a relatively new target being discussed in the scientific community, compared to 450ppm or 2 degrees Celsius that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change supports. Currently many policy-makers, institutions, and NGOs are still supporting targets that are out of date and greatly increase the risk of catastrophic climatic changes. . . the 350 target began to attract more endorsers as new scientific reports and evidence of early impacts made it clear that we are already above the safe level for CO2. In his annual speech, Nobel laureate Al Gore told delegates to the most recent climate negotiating session that we must now ‘toughen our goal’ to 350ppm. . ." The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) also support the 350ppm target. Also, NASA climate scientist James Hansen has issued papers about, and supporting the 350ppm target.

Jennifer Morgan, director of WRI’s climate and energy program said about the WRI analysis, “Our analysis provides a preliminary picture of where the world is headed in the run-up to Copenhagen. While emission reduction commitments by these countries could have an important and potentially substantial impact, they will not be enough to meet recommendations of IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. WRI therefore urges industrialized countries to bring forward more ambitious pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”

The WRI report, which covers pledges by countries responsible for 98% of all developed country emissions, uses three metrics to compare country commitments -- per capita reductions, emission intensity reductions, and absolute reductions. The 10 to 24 percent reduction is based on the inclusion or omission of factors, such as changes in land use, forestry data and low vs. high pledges. Other key findings include: (1) The choice of metrics used by countries (such as whether to include offsets, land-use change or forestry emissions) can alter their emission reduction calculations significantly. (2) High regulatory standards and robust accounting rules will be critical to ensure that international emission reductions are real and additional.

Access an overview of the WRI analysis (
click here). Access a second overview with highlighted recommendations (click here). Access the complete 23-page analysis with extensive links to sources and background documents and data (click here). Access the website for extensive background and information on the 350ppm target (click here).