LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - International pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 2020 are nowhere near enough to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, and countries will have to do much more outside U.N. climate negotiations to close this “mitigation gap”, says a new report.
The aggregate of mitigation pledges by all countries would not amount to even half of what is needed to meet the 2 degree limit beyond which scientists say the world will experience dangerous climate change, according to the report from Germanwatch, a development and environment group. And that is under a best-case scenario in which nations meet their pledges in full - unlikely since most are not legally binding, it said.
U.N. climate negotiations alone won’t be sufficient to push for more ambitious efforts, the report added.
At talks in 2010, governments agreed deep emissions cuts had to be made to keep an increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels this century.
But as the biggest emitters have not yet been able to craft an ambitious mitigation treaty, other countries are reluctant to step up their pledges, Charlotte Cuntz, one of the report’s authors, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The researchers hope to see that stalemate change with the new global climate agreement due to be sealed in 2015. After the United States failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the current emissions reduction pact, Germanwatch argues there should be a way for countries to become part of an international treaty by implementing it domestically in a legally binding way without having to domestically ratify it first. Another suggestion is for several countries to craft a smaller, additional U.N. treaty in which they could support each other to meet ambitious mitigation goals.
“It’s not clear yet what the new treaty will look like, but it most definitely will not be one international treaty that every country will have to ratify,” Cuntz said. “I do think it is realistic that these [additional] options could happen.”
Until then, the researchers recommended a slew of additional short-term opportunities for countries to increase their emissions reductions. These actions must be taken by 2015 in order to have an effect by 2020, they added.
To stay below a 2 degree rise, all developed countries would need to stick to a plan of reducing emissions by at least 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels. Developing countries would be encouraged to boost their mitigation ambition as part of their development goals. Countries that have not yet submitted pledges - which make up about 28 percent of projected global emissions in 2020 - would need to do so by 2014.
Some of the proposed short-term actions would likely get more backing than others. Phasing out hydrofluorocarbons is one option that might be politically easier to swallow, for example, since it is technically feasible, cost-efficient and would demonstrate immediate benefits such as improved air and crop quality.
“It’s easier to create political will for something you can see right now,” Cuntz said.
There is also potential for powerful alliances that could develop strategies or standards for emissions reduction. “We think it’s important when big emitters are on board and vulnerable countries are also included, because that sends out a strong moral signal,” Cuntz said. “Those constellations will probably have the most impact.”
Other changes will be more difficult, though. Agriculture and the U.N.-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme are two areas with the potential to cut emissions significantly, but they are also more complex, making it harder to implement changes fast enough to be relevant by 2020.
For these sectors, the focus should be on adaptation with mitigation as only a co-benefit, to avoid negative impacts in areas like health or food security, Cuntz said.
HOW TO BOOST POLITICAL WILL?
Cuntz identified two main elements likely to generate the most political will. “First, sadly, as there are enough visible and severe natural impacts that become more and more associated with climate change, there will be more pressure to act politically,” she said.
And as countries successfully pioneer low-emissions approaches, others are likely to follow suit. “If these front-runners show it’s possible to reduce emissions like that and still prosper, it will trigger actions from other countries,” Cuntz said. The German Renewable Energy Act is a particularly successful example of legislation copied by many other countries, she added.
Since the Germanwatch report was released this month, Cuntz has seen indications of growing momentum toward closing the mitigation gap, especially in the United States. “It’s still limited to just complying with its Copenhagen [Accord] pledge of 17 percent reduction [of emissions], but hopefully they’ll meet that. It’s promising,” she said.
She also pointed to “remarkable activities” being carried out by some countries. For instance, Costa Rica has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2021, and Bhutan is already carbon neutral. Three countries - Mexico, Dominican Republic and Britain - have national climate laws in place. And Germany is undergoing a major energy transformation that could have significant global implications.
Despite these positive examples, there is still much work to be done around the globe, Cuntz emphasised. “Basically, there’s no country doing a perfect job right now at mitigation,” she said.
Erin Berger is a Thomson Reuters Foundation intern, writing on climate change issues.