Failure to tackle excessive greenhouse-gas output threatens to keep polluting power stations and factories operating for decades to come, raising the costs of tackling climate change beyond 2020, the United Nations said.
At best, greenhouse-gas output by the end of this decade will be about 18 percent above levels needed to contain warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) since industrialization, the UN Environment Program said today in a report.
There’s growing evidence that the planet will struggle to keep warming to safe levels. UN scientists said in September that humans have already emitted more than half the carbon compatible with the 2-degree target. Diplomats guiding climate-treaty talks since 1991 say a new deal planned for 2015 is unlikely to put the Earth on the necessary path.
“There is a real need for increased ambition by all countries: ambition which can take countries further and faster toward bridging the emissions gap and a sustainable future,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a statement.
The UNFCCC, which guides international climate negotiations, has scheduled the next round for Nov. 11-22 in Warsaw as countries work toward a new global deal in 2015 in Paris. Figueres and her predecessors Yvo de Boer and Michael Zammit Cutajar have said that a 2015 accord alone is unlikely to put the planet on a 2-degree pathway.
Assuming governments and companies stick to their business-as-usual spending on low-carbon projects, emissions will rise to 59 gigatons (59 billion tons) in 2020, today’s report shows. That’s 1 gigaton more than the UN estimated a year ago and compares with the 50 gigatons emitted in 2010. A 44-gigaton level is needed in 2020 to keep to the 2-degree goal, UNEP says.
Even if all nations meet pledges to cut emissions by 2020, the total level will still be 8 gigatons to 12 gigatons too high, UNEP said. That would lead to longer use of polluting plants such as coal-fired power stations, and a greater dependence on unproven technologies after 2020 to bring emissions down more steeply, it said.
“Delayed actions means a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in the statement. “This ‘lock-in’ would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies.”
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