Wednesday, November 28, 2012

UNEP Warning: We are on the Brink of a Climate Catastrophe

The UN Environment Program’s Emissions Gap Report 2012, released Nov. 21, indicates that there is a massive gulf between what governments have pledged in terms of GHG emissions and what they are actually doing. To stave off a temperature increase of more than 2°C, nations have pledged to reduce their emissions a total of 44 gigatonnes by 2020. However, the UNEP report indicates that if we stay on our current trajectory we are likely to see temperature increases of 3-5 °C which risks a climate catastrophe.

According to UNEP, the gap between GHG emission reduction pledges and what is actually being done is 8 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2020, which is 2 Gt higher than last year’s assessment.

“UNEP’s assessment confirms that the world is standing on the brink,” says Samantha Smith, head of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative.

“The solutions are all in our grasp—energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, smarter transport systems, action to protect our forests and a move to more sustainable agriculture. By far the biggest barrier to delivering these is the collective and individual failure of political will. Unless we act urgently, future generations will not forgive us,” Smith says.

Immediate actions to close the gap:
  • Governments must agree clear processes to increase ambition further before 2020, in the context of a promised new international agreement to be struck in 2015.
  • Governments must agree on robust common accounting rules for greenhouse gas emissions, and also agree to retire the large amounts of surplus “hot air” emission credits currently swilling around in the system.
  • Countries, including European countries, should also move to the top end of their emission pledges for 2020, and come forward with credible plans for meeting or exceeding them.
  • Governments must agree strong reforms to carbon market mechanisms to prevent double counting of offset credits and to rule out offsets that do not need to clear net emission reductions.
  • UNEP clearly shows that it is still possible to act in a way that can bring temperature increases within the two degree threshold, however we will need to act fast.
As stated by Jennifer Morgan, Director, Climate and Energy Program, World Resources Institute:

“This report is another harsh reminder that the world is simply not moving aggressively enough to tackle the climate challenge. The gap is growing and carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, and yet the current pledges and commitments by countries remain sorely inadequate. We are already seeing how climate change—with more extreme weather events, rising seas and more droughts—is taking its toll on people, property and our economy. Without a rapid change in direction, the world is headed more and more firmly down a path to even more severe changes that will be felt around the globe.”

The current levels of GHG emissions are around 14 percent above where they need to be. Delays only make it harder, and more expensive to make that adequate reductions. The window to address these climate concerns is getting smaller by the day. If we wait too long we may reach tipping points beyond which we cannot recover.

© 2012, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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