World Bank chief calls for “zero net emissions” climate goal

Jim Kim joins growing momentum behind drive to ensure 2015 climate deal will wipe out fossil fuel use

(Pic: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

(Pic: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

By Ed King in Lima

The head of the World Bank has added his backing to calls for countries to agree a long term carbon cutting target at UN climate change talks taking place in Lima, Peru this week.

In a speech in Washington DC Jim Kim said a proposed global climate agreement should “provide a clear pathway to zero net emissions before 2100.”

Kim said world leaders should agree on “binding language”, and called global warming a “fundamental threat to development in our lifetime.”

And he called on “all countries” to commit to pricing carbon, “a necessary, if not sufficient, step in any journey to zero net emissions.”

For the bank’s part Kim said it would continue to shift its energy portfolio away from fossil fuels and into renewables and efficiency investments.

Lima struggle

Over 190 countries are currently locked in intensive negotiations on the development of a deal that is set to be signed off in Paris next December.

Draft versions of an agreement circulating on Monday talked of a “long term trajectory” and “carbon neutrality/net zero emissions by 2050.”

Such a goal is in line with recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s top global warming authority.

In a briefing with reporters German climate scientist Malta Meinshausen emphasised that countries had a limited period to continue releasing high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“At some point emissions have to go to zero, no matter what,” he said.

Scientists say less than 1000 gigatonnes of CO2 (GTCO2), or about 30 years of emissions, can be released from burning fossil fuels before warming of over 2C is locked into the earth’s system.

This could lead to ever more dangerous extreme weather events such as flooding, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

According to the IPCC around 1900 GTCO2 was released between 1870 and 2011 from a total “budget” of 2900 GTCO2.

If emissions continue at current levels warming is likely to break the 3C barrier by the end of the century, a group of independent scientists called Climate Action Tracker warned on Monday.

Mixed messages

The concept of a longer term goal has the support of UN climate chief Christiana Figueres together with France, Sweden, Norway, Germany and the EU.

Achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 “is very likely” to be achievable, said the authors of the New Climate Economy, a study led by former World Bank chief economist Lord Stern.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon added his backing in September at the end of a world leader’s climate summit in New York.

On Monday the US indicated it was not strongly opposed to a longer term goal, while China suggested it could be considered if there was a sufficient financial package.

But in an interview with the Financial Times, Khalid Abuleif, Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator said he felt it unlikely his country could ditch fossil fuels by 2050.

“We really don’t think it’s realistic at this stage with the current technology and current economic model base we have,” he said.

Fossil fuels could still be used in a carbon neutral world, but emissions would either have to be stored underground or addressed by planting millions of trees.

Jonathan Grant, director of sustainability and climate change at PwC said “many” in the industry and energy sectors did not believe a 2050 goal was plausible.

“The scale of technological change, the speed of deployment and the need for global coordination all suggest that the target is not credible,” he said.

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