September 3, 2015, by Alex Kirby
A coal-fired power station in Australia, one of the countries whose proposed emissions cuts are deemed inadequate.
Image: Mriya via Wikimedia Commons
New analysis of promises made by governments on emissions reductions show they are not enough to stop global warming rising above the 2°C danger level. LONDON, 3 September, 2015 – Less than three months before the start of the UN climate change conference in Paris, it is clear that the world still has far to go to make meaningful cuts in greenhouse gases. Four research groups say the climate targets so far submitted to the UN by governments will collectively lead to global emissions far higher than the levels needed to hold warming to below 2°C − the internationally-agreed safety limit. Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) − the research organisations that make up the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) − released their analysis in Bonn, Germany, at the start of the last but one week of negotiations before Paris. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has asked world governments to submit plans – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – detailing the emissions cuts they will agree to make.
Rise in temperatures
Around 65% of global emissions are covered by the INDCs submitted by 29 governments by 1 September. CAT has assessed 15 of them, covering 64.5% of global emissions, and judges seven as inadequate, six as medium and only two as sufficient for reaching the goal of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to within 2°C of pre-industrial levels, in order to avert serious climate change. The CAT analysis shows that to hold global warming below 2˚C, governments need to significantly strengthen their INDCs and collectively reduce global emissions by a further 12-15 GtCO2e by 2025, and by 17-21 GtCO2e by 2030. The term GtCO2e is shorthand for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”. It is a simplified way to put emissions of various greenhouse gases (GHGs) on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of CO2 that would have the same global warming effect.
“One would have expected all the new government climate targets combined to put the world on a lower emissions pathway, but they haven’t”
If the current 2030 INDCs are locked in, CAT says that holding warming below 2˚C would become almost impracticable, as CO2 emission reduction rates would need to exceed 5% a year after 2030, and would make holding warming below 1.5˚C virtually impossible. Many climate scientists say the 2˚C safety limit is too high, and argue for a 1.5˚C maximum instead). Bill Hare, a physicist who is co-founder and CEO of Climate Analytics, says: “It is clear that if the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2˚C could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5˚C beyond reach.“Given the present level of pledged climate action, commitments should only be made until 2025. The INDCs therefore need to be considerably strengthened for the period 2020-2025.” In most cases, CAT also found that the policies governments have in place now would not reduce emissions enough even to match their INDCs for 2025. The exceptions are China and the EU, who would have to implement minimal extra policies to meet their targets, and could even exceed them.
The seven countries whose INDCs are described as inadequate by CAT are Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Russia. It says their proposals are not considered to be a fair contribution to limiting warming to 2°C – from almost any perspective. China, the EU, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and the US are judged “medium”, which the CAT says means they are “within the upper and least ambitious end of what could be considered as fair, and if all countries put forward a similar level of ambition warming would exceed 2°C”. The INDCs of two African countries, Ethiopia and Morocco, are the only ones assessed by the CAT as being in line with 2°C. “One would have expected all the new government climate targets combined to put the world on a lower emissions pathway, but they haven’t,” says Louise Jeffery, a PIK researcher on climate impacts and vulnerabilities. “One contributing factor is the fact that Russia, Canada, and New Zealand’s INDCs are inconsistent with their stated long-term (2050) goals.” Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of NewClimate Institute, says: “Most governments that have already submitted an INDC need to review their targets in light of the global goal and, in most cases, will need to strengthen them.” – Climate News Network
Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.