Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Another Report Highlights Struggle To Meet 2°C Warming Goal

Nov 21: Yet another report -- The Emissions Gap Report -- coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Climate Foundation warns that international action on climate change needs to be scaled-up and accelerated without delay if the world is to have a running chance of keeping a global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) this century. The report, released days before the convening of the Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Doha (COP18, Monday,  November 26 to Friday, December 7, 2012), shows that greenhouse gas emissions levels are now around 14 per cent above where they need to be in 2020. Instead of declining, concentration of warming gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) are actually increasing in the atmosphere-up around 20 per cent since 2000.
    On November 18, the World Bank released its report, Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided [See WIMS 11/19/12]; and on November 4, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) released its annual Low Carbon Economy Index [See WIMS 11/5/12]. Both reports indicated that the global community is not on track to keep warming below the 2°C warming target.

    Emission scenarios analyzed in the report and consistent with a "likely" chance of meeting the 2°C target have a peak before 2020, and have emission levels in 2020 of about 44 GtCO2e (range: 41-47 GtCO2e). However, the report, which has involved 55 scientists from more than 20 countries, warns that if no swift action is taken by nations, emissions are likely to be at 58 gigatonnes (Gt) in eight years' time. This will leave a gap that is now bigger than it was in earlier UNEP assessments of 2010 and 2011, and is in part, as a result of projected economic growth in key developing economies and a phenomenon known as "double counting" of emission offsets. Previous assessment reports have underlined that emissions need to be on average at around 44 Gt or less in 2020 to lay the path for the even bigger reductions needed at a cost that is manageable.

    The 2012 Report points out that even if the most ambitious level of pledges and commitments were implemented by all countries -- and under the strictest set of rules -- there will now be a gap of 8 Gt of CO2 equivalent by 2020. This is 2 Gt higher than last year's assessment with yet another year passing by. Preliminary economic assessments, highlighted in the new report, estimate that inaction will trigger costs likely to be at least 10 to 15 per cent higher after 2020 if the needed emission reductions are delayed into the following decades.

    Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director said, "There are two realities encapsulated in this report -- that bridging the gap remains do-able with existing technologies and policies; and, that there are many inspiring actions taking place at the national level on energy efficiency in buildings, investing in forests to avoid emissions linked with deforestation and new vehicle emissions standards alongside a remarkable growth in investment in new renewable energies worldwide, which in 2011 totaled close to US$260 billion."

    "Yet the sobering fact remains that a transition to a low carbon, inclusive Green Economy is happening far too slowly and the opportunity for meeting the 44 Gt target is narrowing annually. While governments work to negotiate a new international climate agreement to come into effect in 2020, they urgently need to put their foot firmly on the action pedal by fulfilling financial, technology transfer and other commitments under the UN climate convention treaties. There are also a wide range of complementary voluntary measures that can that can bridge the gap between ambition and reality now rather than later."

    The report estimates that there are potentially large emissions reductions possible-in a mid-range of 17 Gt of CO2 equivalents-from sectors such as buildings, power generation and transport that can more than bridge the gap by 2020. Meanwhile, there are abundant examples of actions at the national level in areas ranging from improved building codes to fuel standards for vehicles which, if scaled up and replicated, can also assist.

    Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said, "This report is a reminder that time is running out, but that the technical means and the policy tools to allow the world to stay below a maximum 2 degrees Celsius are still available to governments and societies. Governments meeting in Doha for now need to urgently implement existing decisions which will allow for a swifter transition towards a low-carbon and resilient world. This notably means amending the Kyoto Protocol, developing a clear vision of how greenhouse gases can be curbed globally before and after 2020, and completing the institutions required to help developing countries green their economies and adapt, along with defining how the long-term climate finance that developing countries need can be mobilized. In addition, governments need to urgently identify how ambition can be raised."

    In a separate release on the upcoming Doha COP18 meeting, Figueres said, "Doha is as important as any COP before it. Governments have agreed it is imperative to stay at least below a two degree average global temperature rise to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But they know this cannot be achieved without further dramatic transformation in energy production and use, and without effective support to developing nations so they can build their own sustainable futures. A faster response to climate change is necessary and possible, both in terms of the international policy response and increasing action at national and sub-national policy level and from global business. Doha must make sure the response is accelerated."

     The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a release drawing attention to the "string of recent reports" which they said, "paints a clear picture that the world is not on track to fulfill leaders' stated goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 F)." Alden Meyer, Director of Strategy and Policy at UCS said, "The alarm bells scientists have been ringing for years are turning into a chorus. World leaders set a goal of avoiding 2 degrees of warming, but the commitments they've made to meet that goal are inadequate. Without much more aggressive action, we will lose the fight to avert the worst consequences of climate change."
    UCS said the latest UNEP Gap Report echoes two others including: the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2012, that concluded, "if action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time." The agency found that two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves would have to stay in the ground to retain the possibility of limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees [See WIMS 11/13/12]; and the World Bank report that said without further action, "the world is likely to warm by more than 3 degrees C [5.4 F] above the preindustrial climate." It further found, "Even with the current mitigation commitments and pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20 percent likelihood of exceeding 4 degrees C by 2100. If they are not met, a warming of 4 degrees C could occur as early as the 2060s." [See WIMS 11/19/12].
    In a related matter, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL) sent a letter to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Ranking Member Ed Whitfield (R-KY) requesting a hearing on the World Bank report which they said details the "devastating" impacts of climate change. In the letter, the members write, "This is an alarming and sobering report from an organization not known for its environmental activism. As we develop our energy agenda for the next Congress, members of the Committee should have the opportunity to examine the latest information about climate change and the very serious global consequences of inaction."
    Access a lengthy release from UNEP with links to related information (click here). Access the complete report, executive summary and appendix (click here). Access a release from UNFCCC on the upcoming COP 18 meeting (click here). Access complete information on the COP18 meeting (click here). Access a release from UCS (click here). Access a release and the letter from the House Democrats (click here). [#Climate]
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