By Jaya Ramachandran
The 27-nation European Union should target 30 percent, instead of the agreed 20 percent, lower emissions by 2020, in order to send an important signal to the global climate change conference from November 26 to December 7, 2012 in the Qatari capital Doha, according to experts.
Climate change advisors to the German government, which plays a crucial role in impacting EU stance, argue that global greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels have reached new record levels. Yet there will be no new, globally binding climate-protection agreement for all states before 2020.
The need for action on climate change to be scaled-up and accelerated without delay if the world is to have a running chance of keeping a global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius this century, has also been underlined by the Emissions Gap Report, coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Climate Foundation, released on November 21. It shows that greenhouse gas emissions levels are now around 10 per cent above where they need to be in 2020.
“The challenge now, therefore, is to launch other initiatives to achieve further reductions in greenhouse gases before 2020 – but to be much more ambitious than we have been up to now. To this purpose, groundbreaking alliances should be formed quickly between pioneering states. This is where EU comes in,” the experts said in a joint statement.
“If it (the EU) increased its 2020 emissions-reduction target to 30 percent, this would send an important signal to the nations of the world,” they said, adding that technically and economically this could easily be achieved, because the 20 percent reduction targeted for 2020 up to now has already almost been reached.
Speaking at a joint press conference in the run-up to the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, high-ranking representatives of the WBGU (German Advisory Council on Global Change), the UBA (German Federal Environment Agency) and the SRU (German Advisory Council on the Environment) said that raising the reduction target was therefore overdue. “Germany must support and encourage the 30 percent figure so that Europe could maintain its pioneering role in climate protection,” the experts said.
As the newly published World Bank report avers, if the current trend of rising emissions of greenhouse gases – especially carbon dioxide – is not halted, the world could be heading for a global warming of four degrees this century. Heat waves, crop failures and sea level rise would be the result.
The impending situation underlines the need for a clear roadmap for international climate protection. Such a roadmap can now be agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, the experts said, adding: “The world’s public should take the national leaders at their word who agreed a new climate-protection treaty after 2020 in Durban last year. If such a treaty is to be decided and successfully implemented, a detailed plan is needed for the negotiations on a new global treaty by 2015.”
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol remains the only binding agreement up to 2020. The experts plead for its second commitment period that must be established with high standards. Clear reduction targets are important for this. This is the only way to prevent a regulatory vacuum. This is a real threat, because global greenhouse-gas reduction will not be continued in all states on a contractual basis under international law until 2020 at the earliest.
Another important issue in Doha will be to flesh out the financial commitments of the industrialised countries for the period up to 2020 in order to support climate protection and adaptation in developing countries.
According to Dirk Messner, WBGU vice-chair, “it is also important that the nations in Doha agree on a master plan for the coming negotiations on a new climate treaty, which from 2020 will then oblige all states – not only the industrialised countries – to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.”
This step sounds unspectacular, he says, but it is the basis for the purposeful work that is urgently required. “Time is short, because we must set the course for much greater greenhouse gas reductions now, otherwise it will cost us all the more later. It is not only a matter of new technologies and renewable energy sources; it is about the transformation of entire societies and their infrastructures. The more serious the future climate changes turn out to be, the more expensive adjustment measures will become. It is not enough for politicians to set themselves targets. They must now also tackle implementation.”
UBA president Jochen Flasbarth says: “The EU’s role is of great importance to the future negotiations. The previous target of reducing greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020 is not ambitious enough which is also recognised worldwide. The EU therefore needs a new, more suitable target, e.g. a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases. This would again send out the signal that is much needed, also for emissions trading. Germany has started along the road to a low-carbon economy by transforming its energy system (Energiewende). We can contribute our practical experience with the ‘Energiewende’ to the climate negotiations and demonstrate that a shift to a low-carbon economy is both possible and promising.”
SRU chair Martin Faulstich says: “In a finite world, the climate-damaging industrial society must be transformed into a sustainable industrial society anyway. If Germany now courageously and ambitiously develops and implements innovative climate-protection solutions, this will generate significant industrial-policy opportunities for our export-oriented economy. Technologies and services for resource and energy efficiency and a renewable energy supply are needed all over the world. In this way Germany, as a pioneer, can consolidate its leading position on the world markets and simultaneously create numerous sustainable jobs.”
Swift action needed
The UNEP report which has involved 55 scientists from more than 20 countries points out that instead of declining, concentration of warming gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) are actually increasing in the atmosphere-up around 20 per cent since 2000.
If no swift action is taken by nations, emissions are likely to be at 58 gigatonnes (Gt) in eight years’ time, says the report. This will leave a gap that is now bigger than it was in earlier UNEP assessments of 2010 and 2011 and is in part as a result of projected economic growth in key developing economies and a phenomenon known as ‘double counting’ of emission offsets.
Previous assessment reports have underlined that emissions need to be on average at around 44 Gt or less in 2020 to lay the path for the even bigger reductions needed at a cost that is manageable.
The Emissions Gap Report 2012 points out that even if the most ambitious level of pledges and commitments were implemented by all countries-and under the strictest set of rules-there will now be a gap of 8 Gt of CO2 equivalent by 2020. This is 2 Gt higher than last year’s assessment with yet another year passing by.
Preliminary economic assessments, highlighted in the new report, estimate that inaction will trigger costs likely to be at least 10 to 15 per cent higher after 2020 if the needed emission reductions are delayed into the following decades.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “There are two realities encapsulated in this report-that bridging the gap remains do-able with existing technologies and policies; that there are many inspiring actions taking place at the national level on energy efficiency in buildings, investing in forests to avoid emissions linked with deforestation and new vehicle emissions standards alongside a remarkable growth in investment in new renewable energies worldwide, which in 2011 totaled close to US$260 billion.”
He added: “Yet the sobering fact remains that a transition to a low carbon, inclusive Green Economy is happening far too slowly and the opportunity for meeting the 44 Gt target is narrowing annually.”
“While governments work to negotiate a new international climate agreement to come into effect in 2020, they urgently need to put their foot firmly on the action pedal by fulfilling financial, technology transfer and other commitments under the UN climate convention treaties. There are also a wide range of complementary voluntary measures that can that can bridge the gap between ambition and reality now rather than later,” Steiner said.