As emissions soar, only radical action can stop catastrophic heat rise

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CO2 emissions rose 3.2% in 2011. The failure of climate negotiations in Bonn means global temperatures will rise at least 3.5 degrees Celsius, creating conditions not seen for 30 to 60 million years.

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By Stephen Leahy
IPS, May 25, 2012

Climate-heating carbon emissions set a record high in 2011, in a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year, the International Energy Agency reported this week. The main reason for this dangerous increase is that governments are failing to implement policies to prevent catastrophic increases of global temperatures.

A new report released on the last days of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany this week reveals that the planet is heading to a temperature rise of at least 3.5 degrees Celsius, and likely more, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), despite an international agreement to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

Not only are pledges inadequate, but countries are unable to fulfill even those pledges, a new CAT analysis shows. CAT is a joint project of Dutch energy consulting organisation Ecofys, Germany’s Climate Analytics, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“When we compared the emission reduction pledges of countries like Brazil, Mexico and the U.S., we found they did not have the policies in place to meet those pledges,” said Niklas Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at Ecofys.

Höhne told IPS that they looked only at the policies of a few countries, but no country’s policies were enough to meet their targets.

While Mexico introduced a solid new framework climate legislation, it has yet to implement actual policies and measures to reach its pledge, the report found. At the moment, Mexico is set to achieve only 12 percent of its pledged 30 percent reduction from business-as-usual by 2020.

Brazil has an ambitious target but a proposed new forest code, if adopted, could reverse this trend. “Scientific analysis shows that the code could increase its emissions gap substantially,” the report said.

The United States pins many of its hopes on having lower emissions by 2020 due mainly to effects of the recessions and a shift from coal to gas driven by low gas prices.

Yet regulations on coal-fired power plants and on fuel efficiency in vehicles would still leave the United States “some 350 million tonnes of CO2 short of its already inadequate pledge, a gap that is the size of half of Canada’s annual emissions,” the report found.

“We haven’t looked at Canada yet but it’s pretty clear they do not have the policies they need,” Höhne added.

Climate talks deadlocked

The Bonn climate talks this week saw little appetite for increasing pledges. “No country wants to move. This is not a positive trend,” Höhne said.

“The Bonn meeting underscores the deep divisions that remain between key countries on how to meet the climate challenge,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It’s clear we have the technology, know-how, and ability to meet this challenge, but we’re missing the political will, which was in short supply during these last two weeks in Bonn,” said Meyer in a statement from Bonn. Meyer has attended nearly every climate negotiation since they began 18 years ago.

In fact, commitments to reduce emissions have been deadlocked since the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. Even if governments implemented the most stringent reductions they have proposed, world emissions would still need to decline another 9 billion tonnes by 2020 and every year after.

Meanwhile, 2011 emissions are one billion tonnes greater than 2010.

While a temperature increase of 3.5 degrees Celsius may seem small, it would create conditions not seen on the planet for 30 to 60 million years.

Most of the increase in emissions last year is from increased coal use in China and India, according to preliminary estimates from the International Energy Agency (IEA) released Thursday. Developed countries, led by Europe and the United States, reduced emissions by .6 percent collectively.

But don’t blame China, said IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol. China’s enormous investment in energy efficiency and green energy enabled the country to reduce its carbon intensity – the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP – by 15 percent between 2005 and 2011.

Had these gains not been made, China’s CO2 emissions in 2011 would have been higher by 1.5 billions tonnes, Birol said in a statement.

With the U.N. climate process deadlocked, action will have to come from the positive examples of cities, regions and companies that have made the low-carbon transformation and are reaping the economic and other benefits, said Höhne.

The Rio+20 Earth Summit in June is an opportunity to showcase the successful examples of energy- efficient California, for instance. Germany would be another good example, with an ambitious clean energy plan driven by the head of state Angela Merkel, he added.

Ultimately, however, “more examples are needed and on a much bigger scale,” Höhne concluded.

1 Comment

  • It’s at the point where even “radical action” probably won’t be enough. Based on the emissions to date the temp rise is likely to continue even despite more stringent measures.