As the climate change calendar moves swiftly to the crucial COP21 negotiations in Paris, here’s a question: Are world leaders kidding themselves with their commitments to limit warming by the end of the century to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial level?
A report published this month by Climate Action Tracker says the targets countries have set so far to limit their contribution to climate change over the next several years won’t do enough to keep global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius threshold. That’s the generally accepted point beyond which scientists say major catastrophic effects will regularly occur, such as severe drought, rising seas and supercharged storms, as well as food and water security challenges.
The report analyzed the 29 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) — or countries’ goals for limiting warming post-2020 — submitted to the United Nations so far. The finding? If countries stick to these commitments for 2030 and don’t take additional action against climate change, keeping warming below 2 degrees C will be “nearly impossible.”
“It is clear that if the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2 degrees C could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5 degrees C beyond reach. Given the present level of pledged climate action, commitments should only be made until 2025,” Bill Hare, a co-author of the report and founder and CEO of Climate Analytics, said in a statement. “The INDCs therefore need to be considerably strengthened for the period 2020 to 2025.”
Climate Action Trackers’ finding is not much of a surprise, but it does confirm there is a big job ahead for the delegates in Paris.
NBC News in November reported: “Given the world’s historic emissions combined with a continued reliance on fossil fuels to power humanity for the foreseeable future, limiting the increase to 2°C is all but impossible, according to David Victor, a professor of international relations and an expert on climate change policy at the University of California, San Diego.”
Victor said: “There is no scenario by which any accord that’s realistic on this planet is going to get us to 2 degrees because the trajectory on emissions right now is way above 2 degrees.”
The report lays out some general ways that countries could stick to the 2 degrees Celsius pathway. According to the report, countries need to plan to reduce emissions by 12 to 15 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025 and 17 to 21 gigatons by 2030 in order to be consistent with a 2-degrees pathway. It does note that limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius could still be possible, as long as more action is taken after Paris.
Another big complication is that INDCs have yet to come from 140 countries, the report says. “The ten highest emitters yet to submit INDCs are India, Brazil, Iran, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Pakistan, together accounting for 18 percent of global emissions not yet covered by INDCs (excluding LULUCF — land use, land-use change and forestry).”
The report outlines three “clear” policy conclusions:
- Most governments that have already submitted an INDC need to review their targets in light of the global goal and, in most cases, will need to increase the level of ambition. Those that are yet to submit need to work to ensure the highest level of ambition.
- If the present 2030 INDC ambition levels are locked in, there is a high probability that limiting warming below 2 degrees Celsius becomes extremely difficult or infeasible and that the possibility of limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 is foreclosed. The Paris Agreement under negotiation needs to ensure that 2030 levels are not locked in, and that a new cycle of targets for the 2025- to 2030 period can be developed.
- With current policies being insufficient to limit emissions to the INDC levels by 2025, it is clear that efforts to encourage greater policy action need to be ramped up as part of the Paris Agreement.
Nobody said it would be easy, but we seem intent on making it harder all the time.
Image credit: Flickr/Moyan Brenn