Governments unlikely to ditch “engrained” 2°C warming pledge

By John Parnell

A pledge governments made in 2009 to avoid global warming above 2°C is unlikely to be abandoned before the 2015 climate treaty is signed, according to the author of a report calling for it to be scrapped.

Oliver Geden from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said the threshold now serves no “positive symbolic or productive governance” function and was likely to be missed. But Geden told RTCC that despite this, it was not yet politically acceptable to pull the plug.

“I don’t think it is at this stage, and prior to COP21 [when the 2015 treaty will be signed], it is too engrained,” he said.

“There still is a market for studies and reports about ‘not closing the door on the 2°C target’. The first step should be to abandon the 1.5°C goal in the context of the 2013-15 review process.”

The review is currently on the table at the UNFCCC Bonn talks, which the Secretariat called “a reality check on the advance of the climate change threat and the possible need to mobilize further action”.

Some of the most vulnerable nations at the UNFCCC talks are still calling the targeted limit on warming to be cut to 1.5°C.

Dramatic emission reductions are required if the world is to limit warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels (Source: Flickr/foto43)

EU negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger told RTCC last week that the goal continues to have a major role in the talks and will guide the pledges governments make in the new 2015 deal.

“If you add up all these commitments they need to tally with what needs to be done to keep global temperature rise below 2°C, an objective we all signed up to in Copenhagen,” he said.

Geden says a target that is not reliant on science should be used instead: “Best would be medium-term emissions reduction target with a long-term vision perhaps for carbon neutraility, combined with a proper accounting regime.”


One vocal supporter of the goal has been Dr. Niklas Höhne, director energy and climate policy at Ecofys and associate professor at Wageningen University.

“Giving it up would be giving up the challenge of climate change and taking the negotiations back several years. It would become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he warned.

“The 2°C limit has been a focal point for action. Countries like Japan, Norway, Mexico, Korea, Brazil and South Africa have made emission reduction pledges for 2020 with the 2°C limit in mind,” said Höhne.

“Their reduction percentages are remarkably similar to those suggested by the climate science of the IPCC.”

And Höhne says there is still a chance that the target can be met: “The technical potential is available to reduce emissions in line with the 2°C limit. It is a matter of political will to realise this potential. Goals such as the 2°C limit help to generate this political will.”

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