Image credit: UNEP

Warsaw Meet Crucial To Combat Climate Change

By Jutta Wolf | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) – Dangers are lurking all around but appropriate action can help avoid perilous levels of climate change. Much hope is therefore pinned on the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from November 11 to 22 in Warsaw.

With this in view, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has called for “increased ambition by all countries: ambition which can take countries further and faster towards bridging the emissions gap and a sustainable future for all.”

However, increased national ambition will not be enough to meet the scientific realities of climate change, she says. This is “one reason why a universal new agreement – able to catalyze international cooperation – is urgently needed by 2015”.

Also UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner affirmed during global launch of a landmark report on November 5 that “delayed actions means a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure.”

This ‘lock-in’, he added, would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a sustainable, green future.

But Steiner is sanguine that “the stepping stone of the 2020 target can still be achieved by strengthening current pledges and by further action, including scaling up international cooperation initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform and renewable energy.”

Substantial steps are of critical importance because, as the Emissions Gap Report 2013 warns: “Should the global community not immediately embark on wide-ranging actions to narrow the greenhouse gas emissions gap, the chance of remaining on the least-cost path to keeping global temperature rise below 2°C this century will swiftly diminish and open the door to a host of challenges.”

In fact, as World Resources Institute (WRI) experts Taryn Fransen and Kelly Levin point out in a blog post, the world is still not taking enough action to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. Assuming that countries deliver on the pledges they have made to cut their respective emissions, as the Emissions Gap Report states, global GHG emissions in 2020 will still be 18 to 27 percent above where they need to be if warming is likely to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“This gap puts the world in a dangerous position of experiencing increased sea level rise, forest fires, and other serious impacts,” WRI experts say. “In fact, the UNEP report finds that delaying climate action will be more expensive, necessitate unprecedented rates of emissions reductions, and pose greater risks of surpassing dangerous levels of warming. Preventing undue economic and environmental hardships, then, requires ramping up international climate action – this decade and beyond.”

Ways to limit warming

Despite the significant emissions gap, there are still ways to limit warming to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, according to the WRI experts.

“First, countries must follow through on the pledges they have already made. These pledges – if fully implemented – will reduce global emissions in 2020 by 3-7 GtCO2e – a reduction of 5-12 percent below business-as-usual emissions levels.”

“For the first time, the UNEP report included an assessment of the main policies being undertaken by 13 of the world’s largest emitters and the extent to which those parties are on track to meet their pledges. WRI experts contributed to this analysis. We found that while five of these countries are currently on track to meet their pledges, four may require further action. (For the remainder, insufficient information was available),” WRI experts say.

The good news, they say, is that a growing number of these countries are moving forward with policies that support their emissions-reduction pledges. The WRI blog recalls that in June, President Obama announced a comprehensive plan to reduce emissions across the U.S. economy, and China launched an emissions trading scheme. Mexico is implementing comprehensive climate legislation, and Germany is reaping the benefits of its ambitious shift to renewable energy.

International initiatives

Second, WRI experts note, the Report shows that international cooperative initiatives could play a role in closing the emissions gap. The report includes a comprehensive review of the initiatives already underway – such as the international Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants. It also examines the criteria to which such initiatives should adhere in order to ensure that they contribute to closing the gap.

“Third, the report outlines several other options for bridging the emissions gap – from applying more stringent accounting practices (e.g. avoiding “double-counting” of carbon offsets) to increasing the scope of pledges (e.g. reducing emissions from international transport) to implementing the higher end of those pledges that are currently framed as a range. (In some cases, countries have stated these higher-end pledges are contingent on greater provision of financial support or other conditions),” Fransen and Levin write.

The Emissions Gap Report recommends in particular the following international initiatives:

– Energy efficiency, which could cut the gap by up to 2 GtCO2e by 2020. For example, electricity for lighting accounts for approximately 15 per cent of global power consumption and five per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. More than 50 countries have joined the en.lighten Global Efficient Lighting Partnership Programme and agreed to phase out inefficient incandescent lamps by the end of 2016.

– Renewable energy initiatives could cut 1 to 3 GtCO2e from emissions by 2020. A total of $244 billion was invested in renewable energy in 2012 and 115 GW of new renewables were installed worldwide – a record year according to REN21’s Renewables 2013 Global Status Report. Over the last eight years, the number of countries with clean energy targets has tripled from 48 to 140, indicating that the shift to renewables is gaining pace.

– Fossil fuel subsidy reform, which could bring benefits of 0.4 to 2 GtCO2e by 2020.

The critical importance of such initiatives is underlined by agreement among scientists that the risks of irreversible damage to the environment would increase significantly should the global average temperature rise above 2°C in relation to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, confirmed that human activity is ‘extremely likely’ (95 to 100 per cent probability) to be the cause of this warming.

A separate report from UNEP finds that adaptation costs for Africa could reach $350 billion per year by 2070 should the two-degree target be significantly exceeded, while the cost would be $150 billion lower per year if the target were to be met.

Even though the window of opportunity is narrowing, says the Report, it is still possible to attain the 2020 goal of 44 GtC02e/year through firm and rapid action. Studies reveal that, at costs of up to US$100 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, emissions could be reduced by 14 to 20 GtCO2e compared to business-as- usual levels.

For example, simply tightening up the rules governing pledges in the climate negotiations could narrow the gap by about 1-2 GtCO2e, while if countries implement the maximum reductions already pledged without conditions could narrow it by 2-3 GtCO2e. Expanding the scope of pledges could narrow the gap by further 2 GtCO2e. These include covering all emissions in national pledges, having all countries pledge emission reductions, and reducing emissions from international transport. [IDN-InDepthNews – November 7, 2013]

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image credit: UNEP

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