POLICY

World on dangerous emissions path, U.N. report warns

The world will not keep temperatures below dangerous thresholds despite U.S. EPA's efforts to clean up coal-fired power plants and recent pledges from the United States and China to curb carbon emissions, states a U.N. report released yesterday.

Nations have to invest heavily in renewable energy and energy efficiency to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100 and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the report finds.

"The Emissions Gap Report 2014" by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) is compiled by scientists and released annually in collaboration with the World Resources Institute. The report tracks the gap between nations' actual pledges for 2020 and 2030 and the pledges necessary to meet the 2 C target.

The report comes ahead of a climate conference next month in Lima, Peru, where negotiators will discuss a new global treaty expected to be signed in December 2015.

A number of nations have already agreed to new emissions targets. The European Union has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The United States plans to cut emissions 25 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and China has committed to peaking CO2 emissions by 2030. All nations are expected to table their preliminary pledges by March next year.

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These measures are a good starting point but not enough in themselves to achieve the milestones on the path of avoiding climate disaster, the report states.

"Every year that has been passing, we've been falling further from the least-cost solution to climate change," said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute.

The report lays out the milestones for meeting the 2 C goal. The world needs to cut its emissions by 15 percent below 2010 levels by 2030, it states. By 2050, emissions need to be 55 percent of 2010 levels. And by 2080, net emissions have to drop to zero.

The UNEP report is the first to set intermediate targets for negotiators. Its recommendations are similar to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations' science body on climate, but the UNEP report assigns a concrete timeline for when the targets should be achieved.

"This important report underscores the reality that, at some point in the second half of the century, we need to have achieved climate neutrality -- or, as some term it, zero net or net zero -- in terms of overall global emissions," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Serious emissions gaps

Under previous treaties, nations had pledged to limit emissions to 53 gigatons of greenhouse gases in 2020. This is 20 percent higher than the target of 44 gigatons set by UNEP for the same period.

It now appears that nations would blow through their pledges and emissions would rise to 55 gigatons in 2020.

The gap is because some nations -- the United States, Australia, Canada and Mexico -- are not on track to meet their 2020 commitments, the report states. Brazil, the European Union, China, India and Russia are.

For 2030, UNEP has set a target of 44 gigatons. But nations are expected to pledge 56 gigatons in emissions, which would leave a significant gap in ambition.

The gap can be filled through investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, said Joseph Alcamo, chief scientific editor of the report.

Environmental groups hailed the emphasis on renewable energy, which UNEP said could reduce emissions by an additional 5 gigatons. Energy efficiency could cut emissions by 3 to 7 gigatons, the report states.

"Thanks to the recent breakthroughs of renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions, phasing out fossil fuels in time, by midcentury, is now possible and comes with enormous benefits," said Martin Kaiser, head of international climate politics at Greenpeace Germany. "Renewable energy is the fastest and most affordable way to provide clean energy access for all without causing new hazards and barriers for development."

'A doable proposition'

Since the compilation of the report, the United States, China and Europe have pledged new carbon reductions. These pledges would narrow the gap but not close it fully, Alcamo said.

"Certainly, with the latest U.S.-China agreement, we are narrowing that gap in 2030 for sure, but not closing it," Alcamo said.

Tim Wirth, vice chairman of the U.N. Foundation, stressed that the gap could be fully closed for minimal cost as climate negotiators meet during the next year.

"This is a doable proposition: You start to put a lot of building blocks in place and aggressively enforce them, you can get from here to there," he said.

Twitter: @gayathriv | Email: gvaidyanathan@eenews.net

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