Breaking News from COP15: Current Commitments Will Cause Global Temps to Rise by 3C


Image credit: america.gov/Flickr
This post, written by Robert S. Eshelman, was originally published by The Nation.

An internal UNFCCC Secretariat memo that has been leaked to the press shows that current commitments from developed and developing countries on cutting their emissions will keep global temperature rise to only 3° Celsius.

The analysis paper states that there remains a significant gap between the level of emissions cuts needed to curb global temperature rise and current pledges from developed countries as well as voluntary cuts from developing countries such as China and India.The report warns: "Unless the remaining gap ... is closed and Parties commit themselves to strong action prior and after 2020, global emissions will remain on an unsustainable pathway that could lead to concentrations equal or above 550 ppm with the related temperature raise around 3°C."

The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in 2007 recommends that developed countries reduce their emissions by 25% to 40% in 2020 compared to 1990 and developing countries to make significant reductions to their emissions compared to a "business as usual" scenario. But at those rates of reduction, the IPCC warns, there remains a 50% chance that global temperature rise will be greater than 2°C.

The leaked analysis paper, however, bases its methodology on the International Energy Agency's 2009 World Energy Outlook, which provides a more up-to-date scenario for the aggregate effect of an increase in global CO2 emissions rise.

The goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2°C has come under attack by African nations and low-lying nations. These negotiating blocs argue that a global average increase of 2°C means a 3.6°C increase in many Africa countries and will lead to sea level rise that will submerge many island nations and lead to millions of climate refugees. Instead, the G77 and the Alliance of Small Island States have proposed that emissions reduction targets should aim to keep average global temperature rise below 1.5°C.

The release of the document comes on the second day of high-level negotiations at COP15. Heads of state, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and many others have arrived in Copenhagen. The U.S. and E.U. have been pressuring developing economies such as China and India to increase the rate at which they reduce the carbon intensity of their economic growth. China and India have hit back that it is the U.S. and E.U.'s responsibility to reduce their emissions because they bear a historical responsibility for atmospheric pollution.

G77 negotiator Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping has said the 2°C target would "condemn Africa to death."

During a speech in Copenhagen the President of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, said: "Two degrees of warming spells death for the Maldives and a billion people in low-lying areas."

A 3°C rise in temperature, several organizations warn, would be catastrophic.

Greenpeace's Joss Garman said: "This is absolutely explosive. The United Nations said behind closed doors that current pledges would lead to a three degree rise in temperatures, which would lead to the collapse of the Amazon rainforest, droughts across South America and Australia, and the depletion of ocean habitats."

What would a 3°C rise mean to humans? "If that's not hell, then it's very similar," Bill McKibben of 350.org, told The Nation. "You want a definition of insanity? Now you have it."

Read related articles from The Nation:
Obama and Chinese Premier to Meet Soon, With Summit In Jeopardy
Ambassador Lumumba, What Do You Really Think?
Kerry Comes To Copenhagen
Read more about COP15:

COP15: It's On!
Whose Summit? Our Summit! Bella Center Erupts in Protest (Slideshow)
Yes, Obama Is Still Coming to Copenhagen

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