Paris climate pledges 'will only delay dangerous warming by two years'
Pledges made by countries to cut their carbon emissions ahead of a crunch climate summit in Paris later this year will delay the world passing the threshold for dangerous global warming by just two years, according to a new analysis.
The research, led by a former lead author on the UN's climate science panel, found that the submissions so far by 36 countries to the UN would likely delay the world passing the threshold until 2038, rather than 2036 without the carbon cuts.
However, more than 150 countries have yet to submit their carbon pledges despite a deadline of the end of March. While most are relatively small emitters, commitments by big polluters such as India could significantly change the picture.
The analysis for the Guardian by the non-profit Climate Analytics comes as climate negotiators from nearly 200 countries meet in Bonn and academics warned the agreement hoped for in Paris would not keep temperatures to UN's target of holding temperature rises below 2C above pre-industrial levels.
None of the pledges, known in UN jargon as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), were found to be in line with the 2C limit, when a fair global distribution of emissions cuts was factored into countries' offers.
Pledges made by Russia and Canada would be consistent with potentially catastrophic warming of between 3-4C if the pledges were matched with a similar level of ambition globally, according to the research.
"The action and ambition we have seen to date is far from sufficient and unless it is rapidly accelerated, the difficulties of limiting warming below 2C will be extreme," said Dr Bill Hare, the founder of Climate Analytics and a former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lead author.
But he added: "What we see in the economic and technological potential for emissions reductions gives us hope that if governments are willing to move fast enough in the next 5-10 years, we might still make it. All that is lacking is political will."
Achim Steiner, the director of the UN Environment Programme, said this week that he would measure countries' commitments by "looking at whether the pledges add up to anything that comes close to ensuring that we at least have the possibility to stay within a 2C scenario."
The new analysis suggests an uphill struggle. Some civil society groups complain that the focus on national pledges distracts attention from the planet's fast-dwindling carbon budget and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) goal of stabilising atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions at safe levels.
"When the UNFCCC started 21 years ago, atmospheric CO2 concentration were at 300 parts per million (ppm). Today they are at 400 ppm, and increasing faster each year than the one before," said Michael Wadleigh, the founder of the Unesco-supported Homo Sapiens Foundation, and director of the Oscar-winning film, Woodstock. "Despite all the UNFCCC's negotiated agreements, the body is failing in its key objective."
Reto Knutti, a lead author for the IPCC's last major climate report, said that scientists would prefer the world to set global carbon quotas – rather than percentages of national emissions set against baseline years – but admitted that this was a hard sell.
"We presented carbon budget schemes in Warsaw two years ago [the UN climate summit in 2013], and the policy-makers all said 'we agree and its urgent'. But at the same time, they tried to tweak things so they had to do as little as possible," he said.
Nicholas Stern, the author of an influential review of the economics of climate change for the UK government, said that the Paris summit would be crucial in at least setting a "floor of ambition".
"The question is how fast can you ramp up," he said. "There's no doubt that [INDCs] are coming in too high for 2030 for 2C [of warming]. That's crystal clear. Much too high. But if we get some movement in policies, if we get much stronger innovation of the kind they are trying to encourage, then they could be ramped up quite quickly."
Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN climate secretariat, acknowledges Paris is unlikely to meet 2C but said future rounds of pledges could meet the target. "You don't run a marathon with one step," Reuters reported her as as saying.
- The Guardian