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UN Says Growing Emissions Gap Threatens Global Temperature Goals

The surfeit of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is growing, threatening a global goal to contain temperature gains since the industrial revolution to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the United Nations said.

At best, international pledges to reduce carbon dioxide will cut predicted emissions in 2020 to 52 gigatons (52 billion tons) from 58 gigatons, the UN Environment Program, or UNEP, said today in an e-mailed report. That’s 8 gigatons, or 18 percent, higher than the 44 gigatons needed for a 2-degree pathway, it said.

The prediction is 2 gigatons greater than last year’s forecast, illustrating the task faced by envoys from 194 nations who are due to gather next week in Doha for two weeks of climate treaty talks. The UN said yesterday that the level in the atmosphere of the three main greenhouse gases reached a record, and a Nov. 19 World Bank study said the globe is heading for 4 degrees of warming and “cataclysmic changes.”

“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,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in an e-mailed statement. “The sobering fact remains that a transition to a low carbon, inclusive green economy is happening far too slowly.”

Inaction could lead to costs that are 10 percent to 15 percent higher after 2020 if the needed emissions cuts are delayed, UNEP said, citing “preliminary economic asessments.”

Closing the Gap

It’s still possible to close the so-called emissions gap by improving the energy efficiency of industry and buildings, encouraging the use of bicycles and public transport and reducing deforestation rates, according to the study.

The increase on last year’s prediction came after the 55 scientists from 20 countries who helped prepare today’s report projected greater growth in developing nations and accounted for so-called double-counting of emissions offsets.

The study follows an assessment earlier this month by the International Energy Agency that the world risks eliminating the possibility of keeping to a 2-degree trajectory by 2017. By that year, all the allowable emissions to keep within that pathway will be locked in when taking account of future emissions from existing infrastructure, the IEA said.

Nairobi-based UNEP prepared today’s study in conjunction with the European Climate Foundation in The Hague.

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