UNEP: 2020 climate change deal is too late for drastic carbon cuts

By John Parnell

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions must be accelerated now and cannot wait for a global climate deal in 2020, the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) chief scientist has told RTCC.

Speaking at the launch of UNEP’s Emissions Gap report, which assesses the scale of difference between current pledged reductions and those required to meet the limit recommended by climate scientists, Prof. Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist with UNEP, said 2020 would be too late.

“By 2030 we need to be 25% below current global emissions and in 2050 we need to cut more than half of the current global emissions level,” said Alcamo. “We cannot wait till 2020 to begin these stringent emissions reductions.”

If atmospheric warming is to be limited to 2°C, the ceiling recommended by climate scientists, the pace and depth of cuts to greenhouse gas emissions must be increased, he said.

“The scientists are telling us that if we are to stay on the path to limit warming to 2°C we need global emissions to peak before 2020,” said Alcamo.

The negotiations through UN climate change process agreed in Durban last year to agree a global deal on emission reductions by 2015 with the plan to implement it by 2020. The next round of talks begins in Doha on November 26.

“Current global emissions are already more than 10% higher than the level annual emissions should be at in 2020 to stay within the recommended limit of warming.

“Even if the emissions pledges of countries are implemented and reductions below business as usual are achieved, there will still be a gap in 2020 between levels consistent with the 2°C target and the emissions levels we would expect those pledges to deliver.”

The report predicted that emissions would hit 58 Gt of CO2 equivalent by 2020. A level of 44 Gt or less is required at that time, to stay on a pathway to 2°C

“The good news is that the gap can be narrowed, and it can be narrowed through the negotiations,” said Alcamo.

“If governments agree strict rules [to assess these pledges] and they ramp-up the ambition level, the gap can be bridged. We have the technical potential to do this.

“That potential can be realised while also pursuing local and national priorities of saving energy, reducing air pollution and lowering costs,” said Alcamo, citing South American public transport as an example of how emission reductions can run in parallel to other benefits.

A report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) this week stated that there are 1200 new coal plants in the planning phase. Alcamo said any new power plant should be built with the highest possible efficiency standards.

“In the meantime we are locking in high emissions and losing time and opportunities to achieve this emission reduction potential,” said Alcamo.

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