Climate policy makers must come up with a new global target to cap temperature gains because the current goal is no longer feasible, according to a German study.
Limiting the increase in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius since industrialization is unrealistic because emissions continue to rise and a new global climate deal won’t take effect until 2020, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said.
“Since a target that is obviously unattainable cannot fulfill either a positive symbolic function or a productive governance function, the primary target of international climate policy will have to be modified,” said Oliver Geden, author of the report, which will be released today as talks begin in Bonn.
The study jars with the aim of United Nations negotiations, which have focused on reducing emissions quickly enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change. That ambition was thrown into doubt in May when scientific data showed carbon dioxide in the air passed a level not seen for millions of years. UN analysis shows current targets won’t keep temperature gains to 2 degrees.
European Union leaders will have to develop “clear ideas” on a way forward because the temperature goal, pushed mainly by the 27-member bloc, has failed to trigger successful policies, according to the Berlin-based institute, which advises Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. “The EU will not be able to avoid this question much longer,” Geden said.
The study recommends that world leaders either allow the 2-degree goal to become a benchmark that can be temporarily overshot, accept a higher target, or give up on such an objective altogether.
UN envoys gather today in Bonn to start two weeks of talks on global emission reductions, as more than 190 countries negotiate a new treaty to fight climate change. The World Bank said in November that the world is heading for 4 degrees of warming and faces “cataclysmic changes” from extreme heatwaves, rising seas and depleted food stocks.
The global 2-degree target was agreed on in 2010 after years of campaigning by the EU and other nations. Temperatures have already risen about 0.8 degree since industrialization began in the 18th century.
On several days last month, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million at the Hawaiian monitoring station that first began tracking the gas in 1958. Scientific analysis of ice and sediment cores suggests that’s the highest level in millions of years.
The UN said in 2007 that stabilizing CO2 at 400 to 440 parts per million may lead to a temperature gain of as much as 2.8 degrees. A report by the UN Environment Program in November showed pledges to cut greenhouse gases are insufficient to keep the gain below 2 degrees. At best, emissions would reach the equivalent of 52 gigatons (52 billion tons) of carbon dioxide in 2020, exceeding the 44 gigatons needed, it said.
Raising the temperature goal may fail to gain traction at UN talks, where the 52-member AOSIS bloc of island nations and the group of 49 Least Developed Countries are seeking a stricter target to curtail the increase to 1.5 degrees. Envoys have agreed to examine the feasibility of that goal in light of new scientific findings before an accord is reached.
They aim to agree on a treaty by 2015 that would take effect from 2020.
“If the EU wants to maintain its role as a global leader in climate policy, it will have to investigate all options for target modification as soon as possible -- even those that seem politically unappealing,” Geden said in the study.