Gap Between National Emission Reduction Pledges & What's Needed Is Wide - And Not Narrowing

easter island photo

photo: Phil Whitehouse/Creative Commons

At the COP16 climate talks enter into the home stretch, UNEP has released a new assessment of the gap between what nation's emission reduction pledges will do and what is actually needed to keep global temperature rise below 2°C. As you might expect if you've been following this for a while, that gap is pretty big.The Emissions Gap Report says that if all the pledges of the Copenhagen Accord and subsequently for emission reductions and financial assistance to help developing nations green their economies are met in full, emissions by 2020 will rise to 49 gigatonnes.

To keep temperature rise below 2°C by mid-century--which it should be pointed is no longer universally considered a safe degree of temperature rise; there will still be some significant climate changes--global emissions need to be kept at 44 gigatonnes, one third higher than today.

Simple math: That's a 5 Gt gap. However the true gap could be as high as 9 Gt "If countries follow their lowest ambitions and [carbon] accounting riles are lax."

Unless we close that gap, UNEP director Achim Steiner says, "the best science we have suggest that all chances of staying below 2°C of warming would be gone."

More Than 2°C Warming, Would Create An Impossible Future
And with that, all chances of not creating a world for our children over the next century that is, as Bill McKibben recently put it, not miserable but impossible, fall by the wayside.

Reminder: A separate assessment of the effect of the Copenhagen Accord emission reductions showed that by 2100 the planet was heading for 4.2°C temperature rise and would cause the death of coral reefs.

Ambition By Biggest Emitters Still Utterly Lacking
Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh recently took aim at the ambition, or utter lack thereof, of US climate change action. After pointing out that the emission reductions proposed in the long-since dead Congressional climate bill were just a 4% reduction below 1990 levels (when something in the range of 40-60% is more the thing), Ramesh was quoted by Asian Age as saying,

By any standard the US offer on emission reduction for 2020 is deeply disappointing. It's one thing being ambitious for 2050 when all of us will be dead, but the real issue is are you going to be held accountable for 2020 mid-term targets?

Obviously he's not implying that by 2050 humans will be dead--though the Asian Age headline plays on that--but rather by 2050 many the politicians in office today will likely be dead, and the effects of the decisions and choices made today get to be felt by our children and grand children.

Think there's a silver lining in this, that we're likely to see political movement soon? Though China's recent overtures on making its voluntary emission reduction target binding, outside of a separate international climate change agreement as promising, the short of it is, think again.

We Are Choosing Collapse
As New Scientist reports, it's not just the US that is entrenched:

Japan has joined in the US in saying that it is not interested in joining a second era of legally binding targets after the current Kyoto Protocol "compliance period" expires at the end of 2012. British environment secretary Chris Huhne is leading side-negotiations to agree ways of extending the Kyoto Protocol, but many see that outcome as increasingly unlikely.

Elliot Diringer the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, a US-based think tank, echoed a widely held view among US observers that governments are not going to raise their numbers beyond the promises made in Copenhagen - whatever the science says. "The numbers are not under negotiation," he said on Monday. He added that he did not expect a deal on any legally binding targets in Durban. "The politicians are not ready. If they try and set a new deadline, it will be Copenhagen all over again."

It was human choices over the past 100+ years that directly got us into this situation and it will be human choices that get us out it, short of a combination of civilizational or ecosystem collapse. Right now we are choosing collapse.

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More on Global Climate Change:
Copenhagen Accord Commitments Mean 4.2°C Temperature Rise & No More Coral Reefs by 2100
5.2°C Temperature Rise by 2100: New Business-As-Usual Climate Scenario Presented
Royal Society Paints Grim Picture of 4°C Temperature Rise
CO2 Emissions Rose 2% in 2008, Despite Recession - We're On Target for 6°C Temperature Rise

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