World faces a greenhouse gas emissions gap, U.N. says
The emissions reduction pledges made by countries around the world fall well short of what is needed to keep global temperatures from rising by 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, according to a new United Nations report.
The findings of the U.N. Environment Programme's report, released Tuesday, show nations could deliver almost 60 percent of the carbon cuts needed over the next decade to meet the target climate negotiators embraced in Copenhagen a year ago.
"We need to heed and respond to these findings in Cancun," said Janet Ranganathan, vice president of science and research at the World Resources Institute, which collaborated on the report prepared by 30 international researchers. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change begins negotiations in Cancun on Nov. 29. She said policymakers will make choices in the near future "that will have huge implications" for the future trajectory of emissions and rises in global temperatures.
Scientists estimate that to have a "likely" chance of meeting that goal, worldwide greenhouse gas emissions will need to have peaked within the next decade and be around 44 gigatons, or a billion metric tons, of carbon dioxide equivalent. A single gigaton is roughly equal to the annual carbon output of either Germany or Japan.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, annual greenhouse gases will rise from 48 to 56 gigatons of CO2 equivalent between 2009 and 2020. If the pledges that nations made last year in Copenhagen Accord were fully implemented, emissions a decade from now would be around 49 gigatons. That would leave the world five gigatons short -- equal to the emissions of all the world's cars, buses and trucks in 2005 -- of curbing global temperature rise to 3.6 degrees F.
If countries follow through on their low-ambition and use lax accounting rules, the report says, emissions could be as high as 53 gigatons in 2020, which is close to the business-as-usual scenario.
"The report underlines both the feasibility of emission reductions and the importance of international cooperation to raise the current inadequate level of ambition," Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a statement. Governments meeting in Cancun "will need to both anchor the pledges they made in Copenhagen in the UN context and to work swiftly to agree ways to reduce emissions so that the world has a chance of staying below a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise."
Amy Fraenkel, who directs UNEP's Regional Office for North America, told reporters in a telephone press conference that "the good news is that gap is readily achievable" when you consider what it will take to cut global emissions by another five gigatons. But she emphasized that if worldwide greenhouse gas emissions don't peak by 2020, it will be very difficult to avert dangerous global warming.
"It's a very serious situation that we're in right now," Fraenkel said.
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